Community Food Banks Played a Vital Role as COVID-19 Swept Through New Jersey
At the time of this interview, the Coronavirus pandemic in the United States was already making headlines for the past 6 months. Still at the top of everyone’s mind, it’s vital to showcase the relief available to those worst affected by the virus. When the pandemic first struck NJMEP expended an incredible amount of effort to promote the ‘Manufacturing Cares’ Food Drive to help support local New Jersey communities. As of 9/25/2020, the ‘Manufacturing Cares’ Food Drive raised $38,805. Every dollar equates to three meals provided to an individual in need of assistance. That’s Over 116,400 meals to hungry New Jersey residents, many of whom are children. Debby Scheinholtz, Senior Director, Corporate Relations, and Volunteers from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ) sat down with Mike Womack, NJMEP Marketing Project Manager to discuss the impact COVID-19 had and continues to have, on their operation. Anytime a crisis hits, the need for food banks like the Community FoodBank of New Jersey increases exponentially. COVID-19 was a different kind of disruption. The devastation is evident in the aftermath.
Crisis Creates Demand
Scheinholtz provided some unsettling statistics about the impact COVID-19 had on the need for food across the United States and throughout the state. “Overall, the increased need for food in the United States is going to be 46% higher. In New Jersey, it’s going to be 56%,” Scheinholtz explained. Pandemics are not a typical natural disaster. The nature of a viral outbreak creates uncertainty around the total length of the disruption. “This increased need could be with us for years. Other natural disasters like Sandy, there were a couple of weeks that were difficult. People didn’t have power, people couldn’t go to work, homes were lost but there was a definite end and things came back rather quickly. With COVID-19, the crisis itself is still going on. We don’t know when the end of that is going to be,” she continued. 1.2 million New Jersey residents could be facing hunger this year alone. At one point, the Atlantic county area was the third most economically affected area in the country. Almost all the industry in the county and surrounding counties relies on the casino industry, which was completely closed for several months and is still operating at greatly reduced capacity. New Jersey is facing an unprecedented situation. The dramatic increase in food-insecure residents is overwhelming to community food banks like CFBNJ and Fulfill NJ.
How the Community Food Bank of New Jersey Continued Forward
“On a typical year, we have about 42,000 volunteer visits, which is the equivalent of more than 50 full-time employees. When COVID hit, when the ‘stay at home’ order was put in place, we were not allowed to accept any volunteers. The food bank never closed, not even for a day. Our employees became our volunteers at first,” Scheinholtz explained. On an average day, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey would have anywhere between 50 and 100 volunteers. That ended overnight. Thankfully, the food bank was aligned with organizations to provide aid in case of emergency. Scheinholtz walked Mike Womack through their crisis strategy and mentioned that, “We are part of an organization called NJVOAD. Through NJVOAD we were provided disaster relief volunteers from ‘Team Rubicon’. This is a national organization that sends volunteers to provide disaster relief.” “We’re keeping up thanks to the small groups of incredible volunteers that showed up to help. We’re making about 1,000 emergency food boxes per day and also keeping up with our regular programs like senior food boxes.“ said Scheinholtz. Even with the additional support from Team Rubicon, the Civil Air Patrol, ISRAid, and the full-time employees stepping in to offset the lack of volunteers, the food bank needed to continue operating safely. This posed another challenge for the team. However, by following CDC guidelines, working together with partners like NJMEP’s Manufacturing Cares initiative, they were able to continue working safely. Now, up to 60 volunteers (working socially distanced, and with masks and gloves) in groups of no more than 15, are welcome and encouraged to go to the food bank to help. (see below).
The Real Value of Community Food Banks
Food Banks play an invaluable role in their local community. When an economic disaster hits, countless Americans become food insecure. The only way they can feed themselves and their families is by turning to these local food banks. These food banks can only supply that food if they have a steady stream of volunteers and support. Thankfully the Community Food Bank of New Jersey had a dedicated staff that never stopped working, doing all they could to process incoming food to get it ready for the people they serve. Disaster relief volunteers stepped in to assist in processing tons of food and essential products. Without the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and other food banks throughout New Jersey like Fulfill, there’s no telling how many citizens would have gone hungry.
How to Get Involved
The Community FoodBank of New Jersey relies on the kindness of their community to continue operating and feeding people throughout the state. Even in the face of COVID-19, there are still ways to give back. There are three main ways someone can support this incredible organization.
1. GIVE FUNDS: The Community FoodBank of New Jersey can purchase food at more competitive rates. Most of the time, donating funds directly to any food bank is more efficient and effective.
2. DONATE FOOD: A person, business, or organization can host a food drive. They should talk to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey first to ensure all the requirements are being followed so every possible donation will be accepted. Visit CFBNJ.org to register for a food drive.
3. GIVE TIME: Small volunteer groups are now allowed to assist the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Social distancing, masks, and other CDC guidelines are strictly enforced. This can be done as an individual, as a family, or as an organization. In response to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey will temporarily not accept volunteers under 14 years of age. Go to www.cfbnj.org/volunteer to sign up.
NJMEP is a proud supporter of New Jersey food banks. Both the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and Fulfill provide an essential service to the state and every New Jersey resident. Hunger is often a hidden challenge. 1 in 5 children in New Jersey struggles with hunger. 1 in 7 people in New Jersey struggles with hunger. It is projected that 1.2 million New Jersey residents will be food insecure in the wake of COVID-19. Hunger is a much more prevalent issue than many believe, and Food Banks play a critical role in feeding those individuals that need a little help. In 2020, the Manufacturing Cares food drive has raised nearly $40,000. The original goal was $15,000 but once COVID-19 struck, the entire community came out to support food banks at a rate never seen before. In addition to the food drive, NJMEP’s Manufacturing Day event was used to raise even more funds for food banks. 50% of the proceeds from the event were set aside for community food bank donations. Manufacturing Day 2020 helped raise nearly an additional $10,000 and those funds are being donated to these incredible organizations. Manufacturing Cares and NJMEP as well as the entire industry will continue to support food banks throughout the state. To start giving back visit: njmep.org/manufacturing-cares/food-drive cfbnj.org fulfillnj.org Hunger doesn’t wait. The time to get involved is now.