Food pantries in N.J. ‘don’t expect the demand to slow down’

Workers at the Food Bank of South Jersey load food for distribution

Workers at the Food Bank of South Jersey load food for distribution to pantries and soup kitchens for Thanksgiving 2021. (Food Bank of South Jersey)

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For the fifth time, nonprofits Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and Rise are collaborating for a drive-thru food distribution event. The organizations expect to see continued high demand for food assistance, with distribution levels higher than they were pre-pandemic.

“I don’t expect the demand to slow down anytime soon,” said Joyce Campbell, executive director of TASK. She adds that the organizations plan to give out about 100,000 pounds of groceries to roughly 1,3000 households in Mercer County.

“That’s typically what we’ve done in our previous distributions … that’s what we’ve ordered for, and it seems to be able to meet the need after about five hours of distributing food,” she said.

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The event will take place Saturday, April 9, in the parking lot of Modway on Wyckoff Mills Road in East Windsor. Food will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis starting at 10 a.m.

Even though the labor market continued to show signs of strength in March, and people are finding ways to return to normal activities in the third year of the pandemic, pantries and other organizations that address food insecurity have not seen demand for their services wane.

Rise, which serves Eastern Mercer County, noted a 300% increase in food pantry visits, topping more than 1,000 visits a month. TASK is serving about 8,000 meals a week at 36 sites, including its main facility on Escher Street in downtown Trenton. Campbell said that’s a significant increase compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

“We recently added two days a week lunchtime to a partial care program that Oak Integrated runs on East State Street in Trenton,” she said.

Food Bank of South Jersey, which serves Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem counties, has distributed food at levels almost 10% higher than it did before COVID-19 hit.

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Officials with the organization say they are buying more food than ever to keep up with the demand, adding that between January and February, FBSJ experienced a 156,000-pound increase in food distribution — a jump of almost 16%.

Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, based in Margate, said it tripled the size of its pantry to meet the increased need. Last year, it distributed more than 100,000 pounds of food to more than 8,600 people.

Campbell noted that, with people experiencing either unemployment or underemployment, and the potential of enhanced SNAP benefits expiring April 16, demand could rise even further, and at a time when inflation is at a 40-year high.

“We will definitely see some more folks here at the soup kitchen,” Campbell said.

Citing the pandemic, the New Jersey Legislature last summer proposed creating the Office of the Food Insecurity Advocate. It would, in part, coordinate outreach and communication with food banks and pantries. Gov. Phil Murphy approved the measure in September as part of a legislative package aimed at combating hunger.

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