By Evan R.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic threatening the livelihoods and safety of our communities, New Jersey families have been forced to grapple with the possibility of running out of food. Even in times of relative calm, many New Jerseyans have had to experience the ordeal of food insecurity. According to Feeding America‚Äôs 2018 Food Insecurity Report, 8.7% of New Jersey adults and 11.3% of children lived in households which lacked sufficient access to enough nutrition, landing the state roughly 3-4 points under the national average for each group. However, several counties in the north, including Essex, Passaic, and Hudson counties, experienced levels of food insecurity closer to or exceeding the national average. Large and small food banks have waged a campaign to alleviate the burden of food insecurity for years, but the influence of the pandemic has both stretched their abilities and increased the necessity of their work.

            Increases in food insecurity resulting from COVID-19 are mostly an effect of rising unemployment rates, something that New Jersey experienced greatly in the early weeks of the pandemic. A Monmouth University Poll from late April found that a staggering 42% of people knew someone in their household that was laid off from work. Further complicating widespread drops in household incomes is the lack of nutritious school meals that many children rely upon during the school year. These factors have increased demand for food assistance, causing food banks across the state to report record numbers in meals and meal kits provided. The Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the largest anti-hunger organization in the state, reports a 34% Increase In Nutritious Meals distributed during the period of March through June, and its partners say they have seen a 50% uptick in demand for food assistance. Food banks have also borne the responsibility of helping the most vulnerable with their nutrition. Tens of thousands of frozen and prepared meals have been delivered to seniors forced to stay home, providing a lifeline to those most susceptible to COVID-19.

            To deal with the tangible demand for food assistance seen in the Faces of those forced out of work, food banks have relied even more upon their two main sources of support: donations and volunteers. Money and food from those fortunate enough to have resources during the pandemic has been supplemented by government assistance to make sure that food banks can afford to meet the need of their communities. For example, in early July, the state Announced that it intends to deliver $20 million in taxpayer money to several of the largest food banks across New Jersey as part of the federal CARES Act. Perhaps the more valuable avenue of support comes in the form of volunteers spending their time at food banks to assist members of the community in need. While it remains a health risk to go outside, the continued work of those able to lend their efforts during the pandemic has become even more invaluable to the mission of alleviating hunger. As New Jersey attempts to maintain control over COVID-19, food banks will remain open, providing a light to those whose world has been further darkened by food insecurity.