Source: New Jersey Patch
In the absence of the pandemic, the Monmouth County nine-year old who tearfully told her virtual class that she was hungry would have been in school full time receiving government-funded breakfasts and lunches. For schoolkids who qualified, the Fulfill food bank of Momouth and Ocean counties would also quietly place a 5-gallon plastic bag into their backpacks containing enough food for the weekend: cereal, milk, two canned dinners and two canned lunches such as chili or Spaghetti-Os.
“In 2019, we had 1,000 kids enrolled in our backpack program,” says Fullfill director Kim Guadagno. “Pre-pandemic, we worked with teachers to identify the hungry children. The pandemic hit, and I asked my staff to try and find the kids anyway. By September (2020), we had hit only 300. That’s 700 kids who are not getting enough food.”
“It’s scary the impact this pandemic has had on kids,” Guadagno continued. “According to Feeding America, New Jersey has the highest rate of food insecure kids in the region — that’s higher than New York; higher than Pennsylvania. At Fulfill, we’ve seen a 40 percent increase in the number of families looking for food in the pandemic. And we’ve seen a 90 percent increase in food-insecure children in Monmouth and a 64 percent increase in Ocean.”
“We’ve seen more people living in their cars and vans,” adds Fullfill spokesperson Karla Bardinas. “When they pop open the trunk at our food distribution lines, we can see mattresses — they’ve been sleeping in there.”
Shaheed M. Morris of the New Jersey Department of Education said in a statement: “School districts throughout New Jersey are providing meals to students. The Department, working with the state Department of Agriculture, affirmed that schools participating in the school lunch and breakfast programs have an obligation to offer meals to students during virtual or remote instruction, and meals must be offered to all children.”
And you can help. Fulfill (FulfillNJ.org) has food donation bins in grocery stores in Monmouth and Ocean counties. You can also drop off food at the back door of Fulfill’s warehouse (3300 Route 66, Neptune, NJ 07753) or donate online.
Guadagno promises that food put in the donation bins “will be used right away” and says that no financial donation is too small. “People don’t realize it, but for every dollar given, we can make three meals. Just a twenty-dollar donation means sixty meals.”