Food Banks Facing Challenges During Pandemic

Residents have been helping out by donating food. (Photos courtesy Lacey Food Bank)

  NEW JERSEY – As the COVID-19 pandemic conditions continue, it is becoming more and more difficult for those who aid people with food insecurity to meet their goal.

  Fulfill, formerly The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties has keenly felt the need. A spokesperson for the agency said, “We have seen a significant increase in the demand for food, about 40% higher. In fact, in the past month, we have served 364,000 plus additional meals over last year.”

  These meals are on top of what Fulfill volunteers “were already serving as a direct result of schools and businesses being closed and people losing their jobs,” said Fulfill CEO and President Kim Guadagno, the former Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. 

  Prior to the coronavirus crisis, Fulfill was feeding 136,000 people in Monmouth and Ocean Counties per year, 50,000 of them were children. Fulfill was moving one million pounds of food each month for families in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

  Fulfill has served more than 364,000 extra meals in the past month with its Crisis Relief Boxes and Restaurant Partnership Program. This food is in addition to the food Fulfill was already distributing.

  Currently, the demand for food has grown by 40% and Fulfill has served an additional 364,000 meals to people in need. “We expect the demand to grow as the unemployed run out of paychecks, incentives, and savings,” Guadagno said.

Volunteers from the Jackson Women of Today Food Pantry assemble on April 18 after preparing food packages for those in need. (Photo courtesy Jackson Food Bank)

  Fulfill feeds children, seniors, veterans, and the working poor. Fulfill serves pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens, provides hot meals for children after school when schools were open, and sent food home for those same children over the weekend during the school year.

  “We now provide food to those children and their families at home through our partnerships. Fulfill also provides additional services to help our neighbors improve their overall situation,” Guadagno said.

  Fulfill assists with tax preparation, connecting people to SNAP (food stamps) benefits, and, before the pandemic, with job training in our culinary program. It is important to note that all non-food programs are currently on hold during the coronavirus crisis.

How To Help

  Individuals, businesses, and organizations can support Fulfill’s efforts by donating at Cash donations go a long way for food banks, because they can buy food at a significant discount.

  As to what the organization can use, they need donations of shelf stable milk, canned vegetables, canned meals (like ravioli, mac and cheese), oatmeal packets, and cereal.

  Guadagno said, “they can be dropped off at our Fulfill location at 3300 Route 66 in Neptune. Sponsorship opportunities are also available. We could also use monetary donations that will give us the flexibility to immediately meet the needs of our community at”

  The organization’s staff have learned to adapt quickly to the COVID-19 crisis having learned safety precautions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have strict social distancing in place, a nurse at the door to check temperatures, sanitizing procedures in place, and wearing masks and gloves in the food bank is mandatory,” she said.

  “Every person in the building has an affirmative obligation to call out any violations of our guidelines,” Guadagno added.

  Regarding volunteers at the agency’s Neptune headquarters, the restrictions in place with social distancing only allow 15 volunteers inside the room where workers put together crisis relief/food boxes at one time.

  “We have two shifts a day packing Crisis Relief Boxes six days per week to keep up with demand,” Guadagno said.

  Sadly, the agency has felt its own loss to the current coronavirus health emergency. Earlier this month, Guadagno announced that “we lost a champion for the hungry, a dedicated colleague, and a dear friend. Diana Tennant, 51, of Bradley Beach, died on April 6, due to complications of COVID-19.

Ryan’s Service Center representative Jourdan Ryan sits near a large donation of toilet paper provided to the Lacey Food Bank.

  Tennant began her time with Fulfill as a volunteer and donor, and then a SNAP advocate. She became an employee 12 years ago and worked as part of Fulfill’s Resources Connections team.

  Community food banks everywhere have seen the same kind of increase in need and decrease in donations that Fulfill has experienced.

  Lacey resident Laura Caroccia is the long-time coordinator of the Lacey Food Bank. She said, “we’re really up against it here in Lacey with more and more emergency cases than ever before.”

  She added there is “less and less basic foodstuffs available through Fulfill, who is also pressed to their limits.”

  Caroccia said she was grateful to local businesses and residents such as Jeff Ryan of Ryan’s ServiCenter based in the Lanoka Harbor section of Lacey. Ryan’s is helping support the Lacey Food Bank with its need for basic foods that it distributes each month to more than 150 families.

  “That’s nearly 700 people, Caroccia said adding that Ryan’s helped increase its pantry supply of staples by donating 72 cans of pasta sauce, 127 boxes of pasta and 16 cans of tuna.

Volunteers of the Lacey Food Bank prepare for distribution of items. Clients currently use a drive-up system where they pop their trunks and volunteers load their car with basic pantry groceries, eggs, butter, cheese and some proteins. (Photo courtesy Lacey Food Bank)

  “We’re grateful for our supporters like the Ryans and Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean.  It’s really been a group effort that’s getting us through this, Caroccia added.

  Joy Rende, the director of the Jackson Women of Today food pantry which primarily serves Jackson but also aids those in Howell, Brick and Lakewood is adapting to COVID-19 conditions with modified hours and less volunteers.

  Rende said that despite the setbacks she was “amazed out the outpouring of concerns and help by the community. I receive at least five messages a day about giving money or food.”

  “Actually, I’m not surprised as there are people who always step up to the plate and we have been fortunate to be able to remain open,” Rende said.

  Rende noted that some church pantries have had to close. “Some have indefinitely closed which is frightening to those who depend upon them in their communities.”

  She added that normally her volunteer staff ranges from 22 to 25 “but now we have seven to 10 volunteers and six are members of my family. We’ve also had to modify our hours but this was done so we could decrease exposure to the virus.”

  Rende said her organization assists 100 plus families each month. “We also changed some of our process. Before this we had a form that they would check off of items in our pantry but now we have no choice but to provide them what we have. We do try to rotate it so they get something different each month.”

  “We’re trying to provide items that will stretch out on their shelves like pancake mix, cereal and syrup, Rende said.