July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Jewish Federation Leads the Way in Mega Food Drive

April 4 was a picture-perfect day for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual Food Insecurity Conference, the culmination of a massive partnership effort to provide non-perishable food for those most in need in nearby counties. Known as the Mega March Food Drive, coordination actually began last November and could not have been successful without a large group of volunteers from both the Federation and other community organizations. All major denominations were represented, with food collected at 50 drop-off sites, which included synagogues, churches, schools, businesses and clubs. Corporate sponsors for the event included ShopRite Stores and M&T Bank. The result—an impressive 25,000 pounds of food was collected, with distribution set to begin immediately.

The atmosphere at the event, held outdoors in the Federation’s rear parking lot in Paramus, was festive. There were about 60 to 70 people in attendance, consisting of volunteers, local, state and federal officials, various onlookers and the press. Four massive bins filled the parking area, with Federation-logoed blue and white bags, each holding an array of canned and bagged goods. Additional bags alongside the bins hinted at the sheer numbers involved. Recipients of the largesse were residents of Bergen, Passaic and Hudson Counties. As one speaker noted, although Bergen County is thought of as affluent, not one zip code within it escaped the need for food supplements, with the elderly constituting at least half of those targeted for support.

The formal program began shortly after some mingling, with a makeshift stage set up just behind the main building. Daniel Herz, both a volunteer and vice-president of funding and resource development at the Federation kicked off the proceedings, explaining that food insecurity fell within the top four pillars of outreach within the organization, and they were proud to take the lead in this effort. Next up was Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, who said he considers addressing food insecurity within the state his personal calling. He has been one of the key sponsors who has helped in the introduction of new legislation in 2023 that will raise the floor on New Jersey’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). He noted that people of all faiths came together to volunteer and “We don’t have a food shortage. We have a food-distribution shortage.” He added, “Hunger is an issue that’s close to my heart, and year after year the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has brought people together to help thousands of families dealing with food insecurity.” He also shared that New Jersey leads all states in addressing food insecurity, noting that it is the only one with a food-insecurity app. He closed by saying that not many years ago the state had allocated $10 million annually for supplementary food programs and now it stands at $85 million.

Next up was Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Zur who thanked the volunteers for their efforts, saying that the need has not declined with the waning of the pandemic and that “Although this has been a March effort, hunger is a year-round issue.” She asked that people learn the location of their local food pantry. She concluded by thanking the Federation and its CEO Jason Shames for its work in tikkun olam.

After Sari Gross, a volunteer who has spearheaded efforts in this arena for three decades, addressed the audience, Congressman Josh Gottheimer approached the mic as the final speaker. He singled out Assembly Speaker Coughlin as “New Jersey’s food security champion” and also thanked the many others in the state legislature for “making sure children and their families who may be struggling have the resources they need.” He then noted the efforts of the Federation for this as well as all the other programs they’ve initiated, concluding by saying, “We are always strongest when we are united.”


Robert Isler is a marketing research analyst and freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected].

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