NEPTUNE – Noting the greater demand placed upon food banks, some of which have had to close due to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fulfill, formerly the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties announced details of a new “FindFood” text system to help struggling families with their needs.
Fulfill President and CEO Kim Guadagno outlined the new system to help connect the growing number of struggling children, families, and seniors to the services they need during a press conference held on Zoom on the morning of April 20. She said the new tool was the first of its kind in the tri-state.
The “FindFood” text system will help children, families, and seniors access food during the current COVID-19 crisis and beyond. It will identify the three nearest food pantries to the person when he or she texts “findfood” (no space) in English or “comida” in Spanish to 888-918-2729. Texters will be prompted to give their zip code and will receive responses in their chosen language.
“Every single restaurant and hospitality facility in the state has been closed. The number one industry in Monmouth and Ocean County is the Jersey shore and the Jersey shore is closed and most of the restaurants are closed so the need has in the last 35 days has gone from zero to 60 in five seconds,” Guadagno said.
She added that “where we were not making any meals we now have a restaurant partnership where we are now making 47,000 meals and we provide a stipend to the restaurant so the restaurant can stay open and their employees can stay out of a pantry and they in turn feed senior citizens, kids and shut-ins and veterans hot nutritious meals.”
“We’ve also done 15,000 crisis boxes which are designed to feed a family of four for six days. They are shelf stable food which means you can stock your pantry with it and if you don’t have a refrigerator there will be milk and cereal that you can save over time. That is something we have never done before,” Guadagno said.
“If you’ve just lost your job and you are struggling to put food on the table for your family, the last thing you want to do is hunt around for a food pantry. Fulfill’s ‘FindFood’ text platform provides our food insecure neighbors with immediate and customized resources. We want to make it as easy as possible for people in need to find a food pantry that’s convenient and open… and now, that information is available to them in the palm of their hands,” she said.
The former State Lieutenant Governor added that a thousand lawn signs, in both Spanish and English, and billboards have been strategically placed throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties to promote the program.
Flyers have also been distributed to Fulfill’s 289 plus feeding agencies and elected officials to help Fulfill spread the word about the service, with stickers also being placed on Fulfill’s Crisis Relief Boxes. A social media campaign with the hashtags #FindFood and #comida can be found on Fulfill’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube channel.
“We want to thank New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal for organizing dozens of volunteers who helped Fulfill prepare the lawn signs. Since the coronavirus outbreak in our area began, Fulfill has seen a 40% increase in the demand for food,” Guadagno added.
Individuals, businesses, and organizations can support Fulfill’s efforts by donating at fulfillnj.org. Guadagno noted that, “we were there to provide food and comfort during economic storms, Superstorm Sandy, and now a pandemic.”
Guadangno said that in the last 35 days “we have made 364,000 more meals in terms of distribution of product than we ever have before, so it is not like Superstorm Sandy where there was an end in sight and we were just doing a cleanup. This is throughout the country and throughout the state and there is no end in sight.”
She added that Fulfill wanted to create a place where people “could feel comfortable calling themselves on their own phone privately and find a place to find some food and bring it home to feed their families.”
While the normal procedure would have recipients of Fulfill being asked where they live, that they have civil rights that must be followed and they would be receiving government subsidized food, “we no longer ask those questions because of social distancing, the idea is quite simple we’ll put the food in the back of a trunk and then instead of having the volunteer go around to the driver side and say these questions we are putting it in the bag itself.”