Credit: (Photo AP / Jeff Chiu)
Many low and middle income families depend on food and other service banks during the pandemic.

Reginald Amos visits St. James Food Pantry in Newark to help feed his family from time to time for the past four years or so, but he has been away more often since the corona virus attack.

Amos lost his job as an agency security guard when many businesses closed at the end of March, and without income – and still no payment from applications in March for state unemployment benefits – he became increasingly dependent on food aid from the kitchen, which is operated by St. Social Services Company . James.

Need to feed a wife and three children, aged 11, 4 and 6 months, Amos, 36, has relied on food provided by St. James, and hopes to do so unless or until he gets a call from the security guard agent. to get back to work. Pantry has allowed him to put food on his desk during times of deep economic hardship, and has provided a variety of food ingredients, which he is very grateful for. “They gave me a box of Italian sausages,” he said.

When he works, he will usually make about $ 300 a week, an amount which, with five mouths to feed, overrides the thought of saving for rainy days. “Savings?” He asked. “I am a security guard.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic now in its fifth month and 15.2% officially New Jersey unemployment rate for May about four times higher than pre-pandemic levels, people like Amos joined the ranks of “food insecurity” swelling – those who might not know where their next meal came from.

According to Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the country, the number of food-insecure people in New Jersey will surge by 56% this year, an increase of 432,000 since 2018, due to economic devastation caused by a pandemic. New report, “The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity,” estimates that 54 million Americans, including 18 million children, may experience food insecurity due to a pandemic.

That led to a record increase in the amount of food supplied by the New Jersey food bank and distributed by hundreds of food pantry like St. James since the pandemic began. Demand is expected to remain high even as people gradually return to work, the food bank executive said.

Credit: Andrew S. Lewis
May 14, 2020: Community Food Bank of New Jersey distributes food in Bader Field, Atlantic City.

The New Jersey Community Food Bank, the largest in the state, which works in 16 countries, distributed enough food for 66 million meals in the 12 months to June this year, up from 50 million meals a year earlier, its president, Carlos Rodriguez said. In June next year, the company anticipates that the number will grow to 80 million food due to continued high unemployment or lack of work.

“That is what needs to be told to us that we should at least keep hoping,” he said.

When $ 600 federal payments dry up

Rodriguez said there had been some recovery in food donations from supermarkets after the previous large decline in the pandemic because the market was experiencing food shortages, and sold most of what they got to their customers. However, food donations have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and that requires food banks to buy more of their food and force them to raise money to do so, he said.

The biggest fear of food bank leaders is that a federal supplement of $ 600 per week for state unemployment benefits will end on schedule on July 31, deepening the economic hardships felt by many families.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem far apart on any agreement on a new package of pandemic assistance measures that might include an extension of additional unemployment benefits.

Although each stoppage of federal money will be offset by a 20-week extension of state unemployment benefits, announced by New Jersey on July 1, the loss of federal supplements is expected to create a new surge in demand for food aid.

“We anticipate and are ready for the entry of new food bank participants in our food distribution throughout South Jersey when unemployment benefits come to an end,” said Fred Wasiak, president of the Food Bank of South Jersey, who now supplies food to around 90,000 people through kitchens in Camden district, Burlington, Gloucester and Salem.

The South Jersey Bank expects to meet higher demand due to the impact of COVID-19 for “the coming month,” he said.

In another sign of high and increasing demand for food aid, three pantry operated by the Catholic Charity Agency in Paterson diocese served about 25,000 people in June compared to the pre-pandemic level of 5,000-7,000 per month, the organization said. “It is a sad fact that so many people need this type of help,” said Scott Milliken, Catholic Charities chief executive.

Elsewhere in Paterson, the CUMAC hunger relief organization saw a 92% increase in food demand in May compared to the previous year, and served 56,000 meals to more than 3,700 families during the month.

‘Burn’ the budget

Executive director Mark Dinglasan said he was “burning” his annual food budget in May, so now raising funds and considering whether to depend on food donations. The problem with that option, he said, is that donated food tends to be stable on the shelf and is therefore less nutritious compared to fresh products, meat and eggs that the organization has so far included in its distribution.

The number of new clients has recently shown signs of reduction, Dinglasan said, but he feared a rebound would occur if landlords and banks were allowed to continue evicting tenants and confiscate mortgages if or when Governor Phil Murphy’s ban on the action was lifted.

In March, Murphy’s Executive Order 106 eviction and confiscation are prohibited during public health emergencies, but allow litigation to proceed on condition that they are not enforced. This order is valid for two months after the end of the public health emergency, which is still valid.

Landlords and lenders, many losing four months’ payments, are now pursuing claims against troubled tenants and borrowers, Dinglasan said, and if Murphy’s order was revoked, increased evictions and foreclosures could add to a food insecurity crisis that has caused a food insecurity crisis that has caused pressure on CUMAC and other anti-hunger groups.

“This pandemic creates a perfect storm where food is just the tip of the iceberg for us,” he said, noting that CUMAC has partnered with five non-profit organizations to provide different services for the poor in Passaic County.

Despite the prospect of a further increase in food demand, Dinglasan estimates that supply will match that, but it is unclear where the food comes from or how much it costs. “In this rich country, I don’t think supply will be a problem. But how will they give it to me? How much will they charge me? “He asked.

However, food bank finance got help last week when the governor gave $ 20 million in new funding from the federal Coronavirus, Assistance, and Economic Safety (CARES) Act to six state food banks, to be divided based on how many people each serve.

Calling the food bank a “critical lifeline” for New Jersey families, Murphy said the funds would help banks continue to serve people during the pandemic.

In the Monmouth and Ocean region, Fulfill’s food bank, too, is preparing for a surge in demand if the additional benefits of federal unemployment run out at the end of July, and are preparing to surge again in the number of people starving if the pandemic soars again in response to colder weather at the end year.

After Murphy withdrew plans to restart eating indoors, hopeless hopes that the Shore-town restaurant could save their summer after being closed since March, said Kim Guadagno, president of the food bank and former state lieutenant governor.

“That’s not a thought now, so we expect a spike earlier in the fall, and we plan a spike in the fall / winter when COVID makes a round when we all move indoors,” he said. “This is a world crisis that far exceeds what Jersey Shore experienced during the Sandy Superstorm or after the 2008 recession.”

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