Six New Jersey food banks, including the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, will receive a portion of $225,610 in Community Services Block Grants from the state Department of Community Affairs.
“As a result of these grants, food banks will be better able to serve the towns and cities in New Jersey’s 21 counties, ensuring that more donated food gets to the tables of struggling families,” said Richard Constable, III, commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs.
The funding was announced by the state departments of Community Affairs and Agriculture Tuesday at the Lacey Food Bank in Forked River.
Funding to the food banks is based on the poverty level of the counties they serve. The grants will be distributed as follows: $23,867 to the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, $149,355 to the Community Food Bank, $28,212 to the Food Bank of South Jersey, $9,850 to Mercer Street Friends, $4,791 to NORWESCAP and $9,535, to Southern Regional Food Distribution.
“The food bank is the primary provider of food resources and assistance for Ocean and Monmouth counties,” said Carlos Rodriguez, executive director of the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. He added that last year the organization served more than 260 charities and 127,000 individuals, 51,000 of which were children.
The number of individuals the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties helps comes down to one in 10 people. If the food bank were to line up all the people they assist, they would reach Belmar to Trenton three times, he said.
“We continue to see new faces. It’s very different faces,” he said, as numbers continue to grow due to economic circumstances. “It’s uncommon to come to one of our programs and see someone who used to donate and help with the food drive and is now on the other side of the line.”
Approximately 30 percent of the 127,000 people helped were senior citizens, the remaining are unemployed, he said.
“Food is what brings us to the proverbial table. The most important thing to know about food is that everyone deserves a seat at that table,” he said.
The grants will be used to help the food banks distribute and store donated food, including Jersey Fresh fruits and vegetables. The funding was made available through the DCA Division of Housing and Community Resources Community Services Block Grant, a federal anti-poverty grant program. The focus is on addressing nutrition.
The Jersey Fresh program is the oldest in the country at 26 years old, Secretary Douglas Fisher of the state Department of Agriculture said.
“We’re very proud of the products produced in the state,” he said. “People are desiring locally produced products. By every measure Jersey Fresh is a growing force in the state.”
The program benefits both the hungry and New Jersey farmers, Fisher said.
“We are at the height of the New Jersey growing season, with a wide variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables available for the food banks to provide to those in need,” said Fisher. “This funding will help food banks improve their storage and distribution of Jersey Fresh produce and other food.”
Food banking is unique because it brings together various sectors of society to solve a problem, Fisher said. But the goal is not to end or alleviate hunger, he said.
“The challenge is to create significant food security in our communities so that everyone has access to affordable nutritious food when they need it, how they need it, so they can live a healthy life,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing today. We start with a bag. We start with some produce and go on from there.”
The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties continues to improve the nutritional value of the food that’s distributed, although it’s a challenge, Rodriguez said.
“As soon as you pull them from the ground, the clock starts ticking…but we know it’s important to make sure that the meals our families receive are the best possible,” he said.
The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties is the parent organization of the Lacey Food Bank.
Since the local food bank started in 2001, it now has approximately 100 volunteers and offers a bag of produce to more than 200 families monthly, Lacey Food Bank Chairman Emeritus Guy Burnett said. The bags are augmented by produce available from the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
During the summer, seniors are given a $5 voucher to use at the weekly farmers market and for the Thanksgiving distribution each client receives a bag of salad ingredients from ShopRite.
The Lacey Food Bank used to consider fresh produce the “missing link” from their operation, he said.
“From the beginning back in 2001 we recognized the importance of fresh produce,” he said. Even in 2001, the local food bank made a point to distribute tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, zucchini, lettuce, string beans and peaches. The nutritional component has since grown.
“The fresh produce is eagerly taken by the clients who are weary of canned and boxed foods. It adds a nutritional benefit to their menus, a factor we hope carries over when they shop for food,” he said.
Committeemen Gary Quinn and Sean Sharkey considered the local food bank a “tremendous asset” to the township and thanked its volunteers for their hard work and dedication.
“It’s unfortunate we live in times where more people are on food bank rolls but with the volunteers here we’ve had in town, I know that everyone is in good hands,” Sharkey said.