‘Hunger in New Jersey’: report sees hope amidst food insecurity

New Jersey often ranks highly in national surveys of health and wealth.

But New Jersey is also a state where nearly 800,000 people, 200,000 of whom are children, face hunger every day, according to food bank statistics.

And as the COVID pandemic has roiled economies, hunger has become an even more acute challenge for governments, food banks and those living under a cloud of food insecurity.

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A detailed analysis of this problem can be found in a new report, Hunger in New Jersey and its Solution. The report was published last month by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) in Washington, DC, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

More than 285,000 New Jersey households did not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report. According to researchers, this equates to one of her 12 households in the state.

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But the report points the way to fix the problem.

It urges us to break down the so-called “silos” of government and nonprofit agencies to work together to tackle hunger more effectively among all demographics in the state.

And at the state level, laws already in force or pending are in trouble.

For example, the Food Security Administration was established to coordinate hunger programs in the state. However, an advocate for the Executive Director still needs to be nominated.

Other laws also direct the Department of Economic Development to identify “food deserts” in the state. The EDA identified 50 New Jersey cities as food deserts this year, with Camden being the least served. And it could be the first step toward greening the desert with stores and programs that provide healthy food in everyone’s neighborhoods.

“Disproportionate burden” based on race and geography

The report details racial inequalities related to hunger.

“In 2021, 14% of black New Jersey households and 18% of Latino households indicated that they sometimes or often did not eat enough, according to an analysis of the Census Household Pulse Survey, 5% of white households did,” the report said.

The report notes, “The severe disparities in food insecurity that exist within the state must be addressed to create a fair chance of good health for all.

“The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding inequalities in New Jersey. Underinvestment in communities and a system of oppression has resulted in a disproportionate burden of food insecurity along geographic boundaries and by race and ethnicity. black and Latino families were particularly hard hit,” the report said.

Frontline advocates understand the cost of food insecurity.

Fulfill’s president and CEO, Triada Stampas, says diet is clearly fundamental to survival. Fulfill is a food bank serving 300 distribution sites in Monmouth and Ocean counties, among other activities.

“We should take it very seriously. The work we do is not trivial for those who need it for survival,” she said.

If someone doesn’t have a safe food source, “it’s hard to focus on a more distant view,” she said.

“Food insecurity affects education, workforce participation and health,” she added.

Flexibility is Key

Mr. Stampus is one of more than 150 food security advocates in New Jersey, whose views were heard in the report.

FRAC has been around for more than 40 years, she said, providing “tremendous expertise” for research, policy and advocacy to end hunger.

In addition to community food banks in New Jersey (Hillside and Egg Harbor Townships) and food banks in South Jersey (Pensauken), Fulfill is the primary food bank that covers most of the state, Stampus said. There are hundreds of food pantries, soup kitchens and other programs offered through these leading food banks, she added.

Serving northeast New Jersey, Table to Table has provided hunger relief as the state’s first “food rescue” program since 1999, rescuing more than 295 million meals of fresh food. said the Hasbrouck Heights-based organization.

Executive Director Ilene Isaacs said: “Perishables, meats and dairy products that would otherwise be wasted (waste) can be made available to the diverse community organizations that feed those in need. ‘ said.

She says Table to Table’s “flexible model allows large-scale rescue and redistribution of donations, ideal for neighborhood fresh food markets and large distribution sites, and through the I-Rescue app, small-scale Small donations can be delivered to communities in need.”

And during COVID, flexibility was key, says the report.

Hunger and Solutions in New Jersey found that diverse community organizations were “focused on working diligently to tackle hunger during the pandemic and providing connectivity to food and services and support.” State agencies have maximized federal exemptions, shifted services, and expanded benefits to alleviate food concerns.”

The flexibility that waivers provide is “essential to enabling the program to continue to benefit and feed New Jersey households while keeping families and providers safe through social distancing.” There is,’ he said.

“The leadership and staff of these organizations, state and local agencies, have worked tirelessly to assist New Jerseyans during COVID-19,” said FRAC President Louis Guardia.
“Despite these heroic efforts, more must be done to address unacceptable levels of poverty and hunger statewide.”

Inflation hits customers, not just food banks

It also needs flexibility in the face of inflation, Stumpus said.

Fulfill’s food costs increased by an average of 33%. As shoppers observed, the highest increases were seen in the most nutritious foods such as protein, dairy and eggs.

While the pantry may conjure up images of non-perishable foods, Stampas says fresh produce is the most nutritious and a priority for food banks. And as food banks deliver food to distribution centers, the price of gas is also putting pressure on their budgets. All food banks in the state are working on these issues, she added.

Stampus provided the example of one client navigating the high tide of COVID, inflation and food insecurity.

This Red Bank, Monmouth County woman is widowed to COVID and has to raise three children under the age of 18. She was earning $500 a week as a housekeeper, but her rent was $1,700. “She was visiting the pantry every week,” Stampus said.

Fulfill has a resource connectivity team that can advise clients on food programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children). But it also helps clients navigate federal and state health insurance and rental assistance.

For the Red Bank woman, the team helped connect her to receive $400 in SNAP assistance, and also helped connect her to rental assistance for several months, Stampus said.

Report recommendations

of The FRAC report has specific recommendations to help state and local governments, schools, childcare providers, community- and faith-based organizations, emergency food providers and others reduce hunger by: detailed.

  • Expand outreach to community members about available food resources and federal nutrition programs.
  • Strengthen coordination among food system stakeholders, including residents, state agencies, nutrition program operators and farmers.
  • Investing in and/or developing food-focused companies. This includes promoting the start-up and sustainability of local small food businesses in underserved communities.
  • Building the necessary infrastructure and capacity to take full advantage of existing and new policy and program opportunities. This includes leveraging U.S. Relief Plans Act funds and new funding streams to invest in technology systems and streamline access to food and federal nutrition programs.

Stampus said the biggest insight from the report was how “siled” various food aid agencies and programs are.

“There is a disconnect between service providers and what people need. We need to break down silos and focus our perspective from the people who need our services. , must be collectively reoriented to make the customer experience effective.”

She said agencies “need to make sure the message gets where people are. It sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked.”

working group formed

The next stage in the process will bring the work back to New Jersey.

This report serves as the basis for planning and piloting food insecurity initiatives and investments sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has invested in health food developments in New Jersey for many years. RWJF Senior Program Officer, Marko, said. Navarro.

Stampus said the foundation is convening a working group to determine the best way to implement the change. Supporters across the state join these groups.

“This report isn’t just on somebody’s shelf,” Stampus said. Now is the time to “take the next step” and act on the report’s recommendations.

“We need to identify people who can help us get out of silos. Who might be good partners in previously unrelated work? It brings perspective and new people to the table,” she said.

Laws to expand food security

A series of bills to expand food security measures passed Congress on May 26, pending hearings in the state Senate.

New Jersey Speaker of the Legislature, Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex), representing the 19th legislative district, is a supporter of the bill and said of its benefits:

“The latest package of legislation targets several of the challenges that keep people from participating in these programs, such as lack of awareness, difficulty applying and limited eligibility criteria. ” he said in a press statement.

“Welfare programs such as SNAP and school lunches bridge the gap between frontline community organizations (such as food pantries and food banks) and important national safety net programs that help people pay for groceries. increase.”

On the other side, the problem of food deserts in the state’s major cities such as Camden, Atlantic City and Newark is being addressed through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

The Food Desert Relief Act is part of the Economic Recovery Act signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy in January 2021.

The legislation will provide up to $40 million annually for six years in tax credits, loans, grants, and/or technical assistance to increase access to nutritious foods and develop new approaches. , directs EDA to address the food security needs of communities throughout New Jersey. For elimination of food desserts. EDA is currently compiling a list of 50 food desert communities.

“By approving the designation of New Jersey’s Food Desert Community, we are taking an important step towards directly addressing the impact of food deserts and ensuring access to fresh and nutritious foods, and making them a reality. We will be able to take advantage of our brick-and-mortar food retailers and local food service programs, and everyone will have peace of mind knowing where their next meal is coming from,” Coughlin said.

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