Source: New Jersey Patch
It was mid-December, and students in a class of Monmouth County third-graders were at their home computers doing online learning.
That was when the teacher noticed one of the girls, 9, kept fidgeting. She could not seem to sit still or pay attention. The teacher told her to focus, and the girl abruptly started crying. Her cries turned to sobs; she could not stop crying on the Zoom call.
That was when the girl made a stunning confession, in front of her whole virtual class: She was starving. There wasn’t enough food in her home and she was really, really hungry. The girl’s mother is single, and she is one of three young children in the home.
“Can you imagine the trauma this little girl was going through to burst into tears and say this in front of a whole class of her peers?” says Kim Guadagno, the former New Jersey lieutenant governor who now runs Fulfill, the food bank of Monmouth and Ocean counties. “It turns out the girl’s mother lost her job when all the restaurants shut down in March. She hasn’t been able to work since then, and she does not qualify for unemployment or benefits.”
The pandemic has caused hunger to skyrocket throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties, often just a few miles away from million-dollar mansions and beachfront second homes. “If a child is hungry, then typically the whole family is hungry,” adds Fullfill spokespersom Karla Bardinas. “What we’ve noticed is that parents will feed their children before they feed themselves.”
Since the pandemic started, all New Jersey school districts have been providing take-home breakfast and lunches. It’s unknown if this girl’s mother knew to pick up the meals. It also may simply have not been enough food to feed the family.
A social worker from the girl’s school made a call to Fulfill’s Neptune headquarters that same afternoon. Guadagno said her team is used to hearing sad stories, but this particular incident “broke our hearts. Every single one of our team members sprang into action that day.”
The social worker drove to Fulfill to pick up some of the emergency food boxes it always keeps on hand for emergency situations. They paid local Monmouth County restaurants to deliver hot, cooked meals to the family. And the girl’s mother has since been working with Fulfill to qualify the family for food stamps.
Children born in America qualify for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) even if their parents are undocumented.
Fulfill (FulfillNJ.org) also provided the mother help with finding employment. They can even assist with securing better housing for those who need it.