New Jersey food pantries see shortages at pandemic peak. Here’s how to help.

Families are desperate for social services they never thought they needed. Food pantry supplies are dwindling. Exhausted volunteers rush to meet their needs.

It looks like March 2020 was the first time the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, causing unemployment to skyrocket. But it’s happening now.

“This is now an even bigger event than we saw during the pandemic,” said Fred Wasiak, president of the Food Bank of South Jersey.

Food bank and pantry leaders across New Jersey told NJ Advance Media that what they saw this summer exceeded the needs seen in the first pandemic spring, with food insecurity levels at pandemic highs. data from the U.S. Census show that

Adele Latourette, senior policy director at New Jersey Community Food Bank, said soaring inflation, the end of the federal pandemic assistance program and declining donations are weighing on the economy.

“It’s this unique set of circumstances that really explains the dire situation of a huge number of people,” Latourette said.

A community food bank pantry in Egg Harbor Township has seen a 288% year-on-year increase in demand, according to a CFBNJ spokesperson, while other pantries in the network have seen demand drop to 55% since the first few weeks of the year. % Increased has.

More than 14% of households surveyed by the US Census Bureau said they were food insecure at the end of June, according to the Household Pulse survey. This number matches the level of food insecurity seen in mid-January 2021 and is two percentage points higher than in late April 2020.

According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey will be used at the start of the health emergency as a way to quickly collect and publish information about the social and economic impact of the pandemic on the average American family. created. Questions include topics such as food sufficiency, housing security, and mental health.

Click here if you can’t see the chart

Carolyn Lake, executive director of Morristown’s Interfaith Food Pantry Network, said a wave of federal funding and public support helped food pantries to meet growing demand in the spring of 2020. .

However, its popularity is declining. Even organizations that continue to provide steady support are sending smaller or fewer donations, she said.

“From a donor’s perspective, it’s over. The crisis is over,” Lake said. “But that hasn’t changed and we are still in the pandemic.”

“During the pandemic, people who received $1,200 stimulus checks knocked on our doors and said, look, we don’t need this, help our fellow neighbors.”

And groceries are now significantly more expensive. The National Consumer Price Index, which measures how expensive consumer goods are, rose 18% between September 2019 and July 2022, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s[spent]on produce, milk and eggs,” Lake said. She spoke to the nutritionist who works at her pantry about the possibility of removing eggs, but decided that having healthy, easy options available was more important than cutting the budget.

Since September 2019, egg prices have increased by 60%, while milk has increased by 27% and raw fruits and vegetables have increased by 13%.

Inflation is a universal experience, Lake said. Those in need of food need more food now, and those who want to donate can’t afford to donate as much.

“Inflation is pushing people who were at risk over the edge because money isn’t growing as fast as grocery stores,” Lake said.

Rising food costs are also making it harder for pantries to keep their shelves stocked. The Interfaith Food Pantry Network said he doubled his distribution volume in his first six months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019, but spent significantly more on it. .

By the end of July, the pantry had used up 75% of its annual budget, according to Lake.

Despite these challenges, those on the front lines of fighting food insecurity say they will continue to provide healthy options to those most in need.

“Some people were confused when they first came to the food bank, but they did it for their children,” Wasiak said of a recent customer. “We don’t want to put people to shame.” We want people to have dignity, and we’re here to help.”

Here are some ways you can help:

Interfait Food Pantry Network: Food can be brought to the warehouse at 2 Executive Drive, Morris Plains, Monday through Thursday from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Information about volunteering and cash donations can be found online.

South Jersey food banks: Sign up for a volunteer shift, start a fundraiser, or donate directly. See the company’s website for more information.

Community food banks in New Jersey: Get information to volunteer, donate, host a food drive, or otherwise get involved online.

Rutgers Against Hunger: Want to support food banks and pantries in your area? Find links to organizations in your country in this online database.

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Contact Katie Kausch at: [email protected]Follow her on Twitter @Katie Kaush.

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