Food Banks Prepare for Thanksgiving

By Lauren Wanko

There’s an assembly line of 1,500 turkeys at the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties — a donation from Stop & Shop. One food bank staffers are grateful for. Still, they insist, sadly it’s nowhere near enough this Thanksgiving.

“For Thanksgiving we were projecting and planning for more than 12,000 turkeys, and of course the trimmings. Our expectation now is the immediate need is for more than 14,000 turkeys,” said FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez.

Rodriguez says families are still recovering from the recession and Superstorm Sandy and Atlantic City’s casino closures have left thousands without a job this holiday.

“In southern Ocean County we have what 5,000 families that may be depending directly or indirectly from the Atlantic City economy,” he said.

“Since the casinos started to close in September, we’ve seen an 11 percent increase in the amount of food distributed by our charities that take government commodities,” said Community FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch Executive Director Evelyn Benton.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch is now serving about 840 more people. They’re new clients, folks who once worked in the casinos, says Benton. Now many are in need of a Thanksgiving meal. The food bank is giving out more than 500 food vouchers to former casino workers for the holiday.

“We have taken on the responsibility of ensuring that as many of the laid off casino workers who have reached out for assistance are going to be receiving it,” Benton said.

At the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, volunteers with Middletown Helps Its Own fill a truck with carrots and potatoes. They plan to distribute free food baskets to 340 families.

“We’re up about 50 families over last Thanksgiving,” said Middletown Helps Its Own President Don Skrivanek.

Rodriguez says this fall the amount of food needed has hit an all-time high.

“Normally we distribute enough food and resources for 1 million meals just in November. Well I gotta tell you we’ve done that in September and October already,” he said.

Which is why the food bank starts planning for the holiday months in advance.

“We start planning for Thanksgiving while folks are still laying on the beach working on their tans,” Rodriguez said. When asked where he gets 14,000 turkeys from, he said, “Everywhere and wherever we can.”

To keep up with the demand for Thanksgiving meals, the food bank is using a donated, frozen food trailer to hold the extra turkeys. There’s not much here. That’s because as soon as it fills up, it empties out in a couple of days.

In Egg Harbor Township, at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch, the shelves are bare every day, right after food distribution.

“It comes in one door, it gets weighed and barely has any time to go on the shelf,” said Benton.

The food bank directors insist the need for food will continue to increase as the cold winter approaches.