June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

NJ Food Banks, Charities, Schools Pitch In for Those in Need

‘There is always a line of people waiting for food.’

Last month, boys from the Jewish Education Center’s middle school spent some time sorting thousands of groceries. Under the direction of their teachers and the staff at the Charlotte Shak Food Pantry, the students were helping the pantry organize a delivery to make it easy for customers of the kosher pantry to find what they needed.

And the needs across New Jersey—and beyond—are great.

“We have been inundated. There is always a line of people waiting for food,” said Steve Karp, director of community engagement at Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, who oversees the kosher food pantry. “It used to be that we had about 2,000 clients over a year; now we have about 4,000 individuals who need aid.”

Diane Squadron, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Metrowest NJ, said: “Over the course of this calendar year, JFS MetroWest has experienced a significant increase in financial need in the community, spending close to double the funds on financial support as compared to the same time period last year. Since September alone, financial support for rental and food assistance has increased by 33% as compared to last year. There is a clear increase in food insecurity and mental-health challenges—calls for services have increased by 28%—in our community over the past year.

“There’s no question that people are being squeezed financially,” said Robert Barbera, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Financial Economics, noting that numerous factors have contributed to the rising costs of goods nationwide. She cited geopolitical instability in Ukraine and Russia, which serve as the breadbasket for much of the world given their large grain supplies as well as a source of heating oil in Europe.

Another factor is that during the height of the pandemic, people used stimulus checks from the federal government to buy goods at a time when factories were closed or working with a limited number of employees.

Additionally, the cost of shelter rose 0.8% from September 2022 to October 2022, making it the largest monthly increase since August 1990, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. The November CPI, issued just last week, showed that the year-to-year prices for food and housing prices remain high even as energy prices came down. The cost for food eaten at home was up 12% from November 2021, with shelter up more than 7%.

“We’re not talking about inflation on luxury goods, we are talking about rising prices on things people can’t live without: food, housing and in our community, transportation,” said Rachel Krich, executive director of Project Ezrah in Bergen County. “We are not New York City; you can’t live without gas in your car and basic clothing items. It’s becoming harder and harder for people to make it.”

Krich noted that in the last six months, Project Ezrah has seen some 400 families who have needed assistance and close to 1,000 client interactions, more than double the numbers they traditionally see.

“For years people in our community who maybe didn’t have the best financial education or who were in shaky financial situations were able to float along when the economy was good. They were able to make their situation work,” she explained. “But now, you can’t fudge things anymore. It’s expensive to live here, even if you are making six figures.”

Inflation Sends Some Into ‘Survival Mode’

To help with the need for food assistance in New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy announced a historic increase of funding to area food banks. While the state allocated $20 million to area food banks last year, that number will rise to $85 million this year.

“The holiday season is a poignant reminder of the many New Jersey families struggling to put food on the table every day,” Murphy said in a November 30 statement. “As my administration continues to pursue ways in which we can make life more affordable on behalf of New Jersey families, combating food insecurity will remain a critical part of those efforts.”

More than half of the state’s allocation for the food aid will go to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Last year, CFBNJ provided nutritious food for over 85 million meals through its network of more than 800 community partners including pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, mobile pantries, and child and senior feeding programs throughout the 15 New Jersey counties it serves.

Among the groups that benefit from the food bank is the Charlotte Shak Food Pantry, which gets a delivery from them every Wednesday. “They are a wonderful organization to work with,” said Karp, “and the resources 100% trickle down to the food pantries they service and help our clients in need.”

The effects of the rising prices don’t just impact people physically, it challenges them emotionally, sending some folks into “survival mode,” according to Krich.

“The stress is not just financial, but emotional. It hurts people’s mental health,” she said. “When people are in survival mode, they just shut down everything in their mind except for the thought of ‘How am I going to get through this?’ That is especially true if people have young children.”

That narrow focus can lead people to make decisions that don’t benefit them in the long run—for instance, ignoring an electricity bill for months on end—putting them into a deep financial spiral that they can’t get out of on their own.

This is where groups like Jewish family service and Project Ezrah can be of help, in part because of the support they get from donors in the community.

“The community has been very generous in supporting us,” said Karp. He noted that during the recent “Giving Tuesday” event at the JCC of Scotch Plains, people came by from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to help fill up a truck with food items. “It was sensational.”

“The more we get the more we can give,” said Krich, “and the more things that can be done.”

By Faygie Holt


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