A Mercer County group is helping make food pantries more accessible to people with disabilities

Trenton Health Team has expanded a free food-finder online directory, which provides critically important accessibility information.

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File - Fresh produce at the Narberth Community Food Bank in Pennsylvania. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Trenton Health Team has launched an initiative to help individuals with disabilities in Mercer County access food pantries.

Matthew Broad, director of programs at Trenton Health Team, said his organization is working closely with Mercer Street Friends and dozens of partner agencies to identify and clarify which food pantries are accessible to those with disabilities.

The organization has expanded a free food-finder online directory, which provides critically important information for people with disabilities.

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“It has everything from when the pantries are open, and a bit about the eligibility,” he said. “Because some pantries have different eligibility requirements, and then something we added to that tool, is we added accessibility information.”

He said individuals with different disabilities may face a number of challenges.

“They might not be able to get to the food pantry, make it into the food pantry, receive the food and then get it home, some folks that are maybe working two jobs don’t have the ability to go to a food pantry that’s open 9 to 5,” Broad said.

The New Jersey Department of Human Services is supporting Trenton Health with a $250,000 grant.

Kaylee McGuire, the DHS deputy commissioner for aging and disability services, said a lot of people may not realize it, but “families in New Jersey and children in New Jersey and across our nation are still struggling with food insecurity.”

The group Feeding America estimates one in 11 New Jersey residents are facing hunger.

“While we have made a lot of progress toward inclusivity for people with disabilities, significant barriers still exist, and we’re excited to support businesses and organizations that are centered on inclusivity,” McGuire said.

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The Trenton Health Team has also developed a Food Insecurity Index, which generates a food insecurity score for census blocks in Mercer County by analyzing demographic indicators, such as elderly people who live by themselves, poverty rate, access to public transportation and individuals with disabilities.

Broad said that information has helped to get food resources where they are needed most.

He said his organization, in partnership with Progressive Center for Independent Living, also has conducted training sessions and workshops for food pantry staff and volunteers focusing on disability awareness by empowering them with  communication techniques, and best practices for serving individuals with various disabilities.

Last year New Jersey became the first state in the nation to institute a minimum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit of $95 a month to individuals facing food insecurity.

SNAP was previously called food stamps.

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