TOMS RIVER – With the pandemic raging on and also causing financial hardship for many, the need for services provided by Fulfill FoodBank has increased. That has led them to enlist in a new hospital partnership program.
Fulfill CEO and President Kim Guadagno announced the new program with local hospitals to help identify and feed people who are struggling to put food on the table for a variety of reasons including job loss and illness during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis.
Guadagno made the announcement at the B.E.A.T. Center located on Hooper Avenue. She was joined by Fulfill Board Chair Lauren Holman and CentraState Community Relations Manager Jay Robinson.
Hackensack Meridian Community Outreach Manager Allison Cerco was also present and she noted that with the rollout of vaccinations “we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully a gradual return to some normalcy. Unfortunately food insecurity in our community continues to be a great concern and challenges of the pandemic have only increased this.”
“That is where the hospital partnership program comes in. As we provide care at our medical centers out in our communities, our outpatient facilities – our team members and physicians – come across and are made aware of families in need. They do everything they can to support them and provide them with needed resources,” Cerco said.
“Now we have another wonderful resource we can refer them to and it is Fulfill. Our team members are also vulnerable to hardship and have been effected by the pandemic,” she added.
One of those individuals impacted was present to talk about what she had experienced during the pandemic. Robin Severin of Waretown, a hospital employee, connected to Fulfill for help because she is unable to work as much as usual.
“I have been using Fulfill for a few months now and they have helped me and my family. I have been going through a lot of medical issues because I work at a local hospital. I keep running fevers and you don’t want to expose anyone.”
She said the assistance she has received “has allowed me to focus on other things and not worry about trying to feed my family. It allowed me to put that money elsewhere and not have to worry about where our next meal was coming from.”
Also present was Toms River resident Rob Cressen. He and his 74-year-old mother are currently receiving meals through Fulfill’s Hospital Partnership program.
“After recently being in the Community Medical Center hospital for 31 days with pancreatitis and COVID, my mom was also sick with COVID from visiting me in the hospital,” he said.
Cressen added, “preparing meals is just not possible right now. We would not be eating dinner if Fulfill wasn’t providing it. It is wonderful to know the support is here for people like us who are struggling,” Cressen said.
“I am a person who was working at soup kitchens and now I am on the other side of the table and it could happen to any of us,” Cressen said.
“I can’t thank Robin and Rob enough for sharing their story and putting a face on what we are doing here. Without your story we can’t keep raising funds and helping people,” Guadagno said.
Guadagno explained the partnership program began quickly thanks to the Jules L. Plangere Jr. Family Foundation, the first funder of this program. Guadagno thanked the foundation for its generous donation which made the launch possible.
Additionally, donations of two retrofitted trucks to transport meals from the Wintrode Family Foundation and the Causeway Family of Dealerships will also help Fulfill meet the growing demand for food.
Guadagno said Rob’s story led to interacting with Hackensack Meridian and CentraState. “As a foodbank we represent two counties pre-pandemic 36,000 people which in the last year has increased 40 percent. The cost of feeding those people has increased by 445%.”
“We have started doing things that we thought we’d never have to do. Government shut everything down in March and there was no one to feed anyone except us. I have 57 employees who on a Friday heard that every soup kitchen, every feeding program every housing every domestic violence, every pantry was no longer in operation. They all came to work that following day. I didn’t ask them they just did.”
Guadagno added, “if they hadn’t, we would not have served in a little less than a year 3.3 million more meals then we did at the same time last year. We would not have created the 125,000 meal boxes we have here. We had never done that and the employees made that happen.”
She noted the importance of Fulfill’s find food app which allows those in needs find a food pantry. “Most wouldn’t know how to Google ‘pantry.’ We are the first in the region where people can use this app to find food pantries in your area and you can dial in to find out when they are open. You dial ‘find food’ and you put the zip code in and you find a pantry.”
Holman said, “Fulfill has truly made it a priority to find those who have either fallen through the cracks or have never needed services before and simply don’t know how to find them. This partnership has allowed us to find those people in Ocean and Monmouth counties and to make sure that they are not only fed but they have access to all the social services that we can help them find as well.”
“Fulfill’s partnership started in November and since then we have identified and helped 100 families so far in this program. We have served over 10,000 meals in this program,” Holman added.
Robinson said, “this pandemic and how it has effected everybody has transcended all aspects of society. Fulfill is not a hand out it is a hand up. It not only supplies the nutrition value that is needed but it is also a sustainability program. That is a big difference.”
“We want to not only take care of the day we want to take care of their future and that is where Fulfill is really coming in,” Robinson added.