By Lauren Wanko
Executive Director of the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties Carlos Rodriguez said the food bank is the busiest it’s ever been. Since Sandy hit, they’ve distributed enough food to make 450,000 meals.
“That is well over twice as much food as we’re normally distributing during this time of year,” said Rodriguez. “I don’t think anyone can picture this type of need. And you have the perfect storm within the perfect storm. Not only did we have such a devastating hurricane but you also have it on the heels of an economic crisis and also right up against the Thanksgiving and holiday season.”
During this time of year, the food bank typically has plenty of time to sort and distribute all the Thanksgiving fixings to their network of more than 250 charities, but this year their immediate focus was on disaster relief.
The Thanksgiving turkeys are stored inside a freezer at the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. So far they’ve received 12,000 turkeys this year, but the executive director says since Sandy hit, that’s nowhere near enough.
“One the things that this crisis has kind of left on our front door is that many of the folks who contribute and donate are now showing up for a very different reason,” Rodriguez said. “They themselves need to fill up their cupboards.”
It’s a sad reality food banks are now facing statewide. The Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which has branches in North and South Jersey, say they’ve distributed more than 100,000 pounds of food a day since Sandy made landfall. Their struggle at this point is keeping up with the demand and preparing for the winter months.
“The need was high prior to the storm and now that more people are homeless and possibly without jobs, the need is definitely higher then it was previously,” said Jennifer Zeligson, manager of food distribution programs for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
We asked Sen. Jennifer Beck, who volunteers at the food bank, if legislators will consider increasing state aid to New Jersey’s food banks.
“No doubt about it. It is on our governor’s radar screen, it’s certainly on mine and my colleagues’,” Beck said. “We recognize the unprecedented nature of this challenge and we’re very focused on it.”
Rodriguez says after the turkey is carved and the holidays are over, the Food Bank still anticipates feeding more people then ever before. And their greatest challenge going forward is having the resources to meet those needs.