NJ food banks expect winter spike in demand, still due to pandemic
Twenty months since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, spots devoted to feeding the hungry still aren't seeing demand let up across the Garden State.
In fact, the need for food among New Jersey families may increase even more heading into the winter months.
"We do expect the food need to spike this winter, after rent and utility freezes end, and now that the federal unemployment insurance benefits are over," said Jim Kroeze, co-interim CEO for Fulfill, which serves families in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
Certain low- and moderate-income households are protected from eviction for unpaid rent through the end of 2021. Utility companies can shut off services come Jan. 1.
"Additionally, the pandemic left us with high prices in the grocery store, and incomes just don't stretch like they used to," Kroeze said.
Pre-pandemic, according to Kroeze, Fulfill fed approximately 136,000 individuals. Today, the count is up to 215,000, including 70,000 children.
The nonprofit has a network of 289 food pantries, and offers a drive-thru distribution every Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. at its facility in Neptune.
"It's grown now to about 135 cars every Friday," Kroeze said. "Unfortunately, we don't see an end in sight for the food needs at the Jersey Shore."
Due to what's expected to be a demanding winter, food banks in New Jersey are looking for help from the public in the way of volunteer hours or money for meals.
Food is flowing out as quickly as it's coming in for Community FoodBank of New Jersey, according to president and CEO Carlos Rodriguez. Last fiscal year, CFBNJ provided enough food for 84 million meals. The count could increase to 93 million this year.
"The demand is still high," Rodriguez said. "Many families are still struggling from the economic impact of this pandemic, and uncertainty remains high as well."
For individuals attempting to "climb out of debt and get back on their feet," Rodriguez said, price increases at the supermarket are a significant challenge. Supply isn't catching up with demand on many products.
Preparing for the holidays, CFBNJ is paying about 35 cents more per pound for turkeys. CFBNJ is buying more products than ever before, at higher prices, Rodriguez said.
"It really makes it hard to manage and look forward," Rodriguez said.