Amazon Helps Community FoodBank of NJ

By Erin Delmore

When school’s in session some 427,000 children get free or reduced-price school lunches. But a new national report from the Food Research and Action Center indicates when school’s out for the summer, kids go hungry. Last year, New Jersey’s summer meals programs failed to deliver food to nearly 80 percent of those in need. This summer the nation’s most efficient delivery service is coming to the rescue of those chasing the dream.

“We, together, can do so much more than the food bank can do alone,” said Community FoodBank of New Jersey President and CEO Debra Vizzi.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey is getting a lift from Amazon. The e-commerce giant is lending a hand in logistics.

“You know, we have a lot of great expertise around delivering items to customers and we have great partners in the community like the food bank and we want to come in and share that expertise with them on the operational level,” said Amazon Spokesperson Aaron Toso.

This is the largest physical plant of any food bank in the U.S., with more employees than any other. It distributes 45 million pounds of food per year. Doing it quickly is key. That’s where Amazon comes in.

“They have an excellent shelf marking system, but floor markings is one of the suggestions we talked to them about,” said Amazon General Manager Chris Cooper. “Without that, sometimes you get a mix of products in different locations. That takes a long time for the picker to find, where to get the next item to meet the demand for their agencies that they ship to.”

Cooper manages the Amazon fulfillment center in Carteret.

“With any flow systems, it’s always good to have the first product they receive in to be the first product that they ship out. So if they’re storing material on the wall, for instance, sometimes it makes it very difficult to get the ones in the back, which is the first you received, to be the first one you ship out,” he said.

Amazon has a heavy presence in New Jersey. Its outposts serve the busy New York and Philadelphia markets at a fraction of the real estate and labor costs.

“We have two fulfillment centers — one in Robbinsville and one in Carteret — and we’re going to be building two new fulfillment centers — one in Florence and a second one in Carteret. We also have other operations throughout the state, including Amazon Fresh. All of those operations together, we donate food and items that can’t be sold,” Toso said.

Amazon is one of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s biggest donors. The company gave $10,000 along with its expertise. President and CEO Vizzi says the timing couldn’t be better.

“I think philanthropically, most people want to give around the holidays. This is a very important time. The kids are out of school. That means, there is no lunch, there’s perhaps no breakfast. We are a provider for dinner for a lot of the school kids throughout the state, so you know this is a very vulnerable time,” she said.

The food bank distributes perishable and non-perishable food items and dry goods to 1,300 partner agencies to reach 1.1 million hungry New Jerseyans. A far cry from its start 42 years ago in the back of a station wagon.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.