Source: NJ Spotlight
New Jersey’s food assistance network is now bracing for winter, when demand normally rises in line with holidays. But this year that could be swollen further by the withdrawal of extra jobless benefits and the end of the state’s moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent during the pandemic.
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the state’s biggest, is already on track to distribute food for a record 93 million meals in its current fiscal year which began on July 1. That’s up from 84 million meals in the last fiscal year, and 50 million in the year before the pandemic began.
New Jersey’s jobless rate edged down to 7.2% in August, the latest month for which data is available. That’s well below its pandemic high but still about twice the pre-pandemic rate, suggesting that demand for emergency food will remain high for some time. If evictions resume when the state’s moratorium ends, more people may turn to food banks as they look for new accommodation.
Since the pandemic began, the South Jersey Food Bank has reduced the number of food drives — at which it previously invited donations by corporations and individuals — to cut the number of touches and reduce infection risk, she said.
The Cherry Hill Food & Outreach pantry has been forced by the pandemic to stop its clients choosing their own food inside its building. Instead, they pull up their cars outside, and all get identical, pre-packed bags placed in their open trunks by staff or volunteers.
“There’s no other way to do it when they can’t come in,” says Janet Giordano, executive director of the pantry. She said about half of the families coming there had never used a food pantry before the pandemic. Most are low-skilled workers like cleaners or handymen who lost their jobs when businesses closed and are now using donated food to help their stretched budgets. Earlier in the pandemic, some clients came from skilled professions, but their numbers have dwindled.
Officials at all of New Jersey’s food banks said they expect to be able to meet the continued high demand, but urged extra support from private and corporate donors of food and money. “We all want to put the pandemic behind us and get back to some semblance of what we were used to, but the reality is that many families are going to be digging out of this financial crisis for a long time,” says Carlos Rodriguez, president of the Community Food Bank.
“We continue to rely on our public and private partners to help us make sure all of our neighbors are fed.”