SOCIAL ISSUES

Assembly speaker tours a food bank to raise awareness on hunger

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

When you’re hungry, you open the fridge for a snack. But for one in 10 New Jerseyans, there won’t be any food. That statistic has led Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to champion a package of bills that have already passed the Assembly that address hunger and food insecurity in New Jersey.

“We look at the whole issue of hunger, right? That’s a very broad topic, in order to try to break it down, in order to achieve some level of success, it was important to look at the various areas,” Coughlin said.

Those areas include finding better solutions to food waste, coordinating delivery of food to community organizations, connecting people to needed social services and raising public awareness around food donation.

But one bill was top of mind as the speaker put together donation boxes at Fulfill, a food bank serving Monmouth and Ocean Counties. He was joined by Assembly members Joanne Downey and Eric Houghtaling.

“One of the things, for example, that I learned as I went through this process was the challenges that college students face. You know my kids went off to college. They were fortunate enough to have a meal plan. We were worried about the freshman 15. We didn’t worry about whether they were going to eat. But so many students don’t. I think it’s one out of every three college student faces food insecurity,” Coughlin said.

Amy Jolin, the executive director of Fulfill, agrees that this is a major issue.

“You know students, they’re spending a lot of money on tuition. They sometimes go without food, or go without housing, or sleeping in their cars. That’s a real issue for us,” said Jolin.

“We’re going to provide assistance so that there are food pantries on each college campus will have people there to help provide SNAP applications, because so many students are eligible for SNAP,” Coughlin said.

Another bill would incentivize grocery stores to open in food desserts, and would make an exception to allow them to sell alcohol.

“The goal was to create a system where the supermarket could generate enough business and enough money to be able to stay in that place, not just come in. We’ve had that happen in food deserts before. Stores would come, and they would go because they can’t sustain it,” Coughlin said. “We’re going to make sure that helps to attract people to the place.”

More New Jerseyans may be hungry Monday as the federal shutdown reached day 24.

“They’re already holding hostage people who are working,” said Downey. “Think about that, people are working and not getting paid. That’s terrible. That should never come into any political gamesmanship.”

Food banks are urging any furloughed workers who are struggling to put food on the table to reach out and find support in their area. As for the 13 bills, they’re waiting for Senate approval.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform 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.