NJ food banks see spike in demand and expect it to worsen
Food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the Garden State, along with the food banks that may supply them with inventory, can already easily see an uptick in demand from the general public, as the COVID-19 emergency wreaks havoc on the economy and anyone's normal routine.
Meeting the jump in demand, for now, doesn't appear to be an issue. But organizations can see the increased need lasting for months, even after any sense of normalcy returns to New Jersey.
"I think we're just at the start of it," said Michelle Wilson, executive director of New Brunswick-based Elijah's Promise.
The nonprofit's soup kitchen on Neilson Street would typically serve about 150 meals at lunch, Wilson said.
"The other day, we had a record high of 271," she said.
To make the process easier for individuals and families in need, Elijah's Promise is also handing out dinner to-go during lunch pickup. All hand-outs are occurring at the door, typically resulting in "a long line down the block," Wilson said.
Simon's Soup Kitchen, operating out of a church in Seaside Heights, is serving close to 200 meals every Tuesday and Friday night. Volunteers would normally see 75 to 100 individuals.
"It's more families, larger families that have stated to us that they're now out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic," said John Salemi, executive director.
The operation has trimmed its crew of about 250 volunteers down to a core group of 10, Salemi said.
On Thursday, the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund announced its first round of grants devoted to the state's food distribution network that provides nourishment for more than 1 million residents across the state.
The nonprofit, launched in response to the pandemic, announced grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, for organizations affiliated with Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Fulfill (formerly Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties), and the Food Bank of South Jersey.
Food Bank of South Jersey President and CEO Fred Woziak told New Jersey 101.5 the current supply of food "is healthy and strong," but there's always a need for donations. The demand recently has been "unprecedented."
"We are seeing over a 200% increase in our Hope Mobile lines, increased need at our pantries," Woziak said. "Our food delivery to the pantries and the Hope Mobiles is just about doubling to meet demand."