At Community Food Bank of NJ, Fighting Hunger is Personal

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Pallet trucks carrying boxes of pasta, granola bars and bananas go whizzing through the warehouse at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. It’s a busy time of year for the charity.

“Hunger, while it’s a holiday period, is a 365-day-a-year problem,” says President and CEO Debra Vizzi.

Vizzi knows that well. As a child growing up in various foster homes and shelters, she remembers what it feels like to be hungry.

“What I can tell you is that feeling hungry made me feel ashamed because I was often staring at other kids who had things that I didn’t.  It was sort of the catalyst for teasing,” she said. “Being the kid that didn’t look like everyone else because perhaps I was unkempt, or really hungry or really begging for food or really wanting to be somewhere because there was more of this or more of that.”

Vizzi’s story is frighteningly common. One out of five kids in New Jersey is hungry.

“What we’re seeing is that families are having difficulty making ends meet. So, a child may have one meal a day, or that meal may not be nutritious or that meal may not have protein to carry them so that they’re satiated and not feeling hungry,” Vizzi explained.

These children are considered food insecure. As anyone who’s gone too long without eating knows, that can impact a child’s focus and behavior, and as a result, their education.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey operates as a large, well-oiled machine. They distribute food to the local organizations that serve these children and others who are hungry — after school programs, shelters, soup kitchens, pantries and senior feeding programs.

The food bank’s main Hillside location is roughly the size of five football fields. Among many other services here, donations are sorted and stored.

Minister Tyrone South of Shield of Faith Ministries is stopping by to pick up an order for his church’s food pantry.

“They’re much happier now because, before dealing with the food bank, we didn’t do any meat. And that’s what I’m here for today actually, to pick up some meat for our pantry,” South said. “Initially, we were spending so much. Once we got involved with the food bank, it has dropped dramatically.”

On top of the donations of food the bank collects Vizzi says the organization has the ability to purchase much differently than the average consumer.

“For every dollar we receive, we can buy $10 worth of food,” she explains.

She recommends monetary donations, in addition to gifts of nutritious, non-perishable food items and volunteer time. Tool kits with more information on how to contribute to the cause are available online. Vizzi says those who want to help this holiday season can spread the word and the spread the love by hosting parties that guide guests toward charitable giving.