WESTFIELD — The Covid-19 pandemic is on track to “erase nearly a decade of gains in food security,” according to a report from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ). The report, published in September of 2020, states that food insecurity levels in New Jersey are expected to rise above the levels from the 2008 recession and that one in five New Jersey children will experience food uncertainty as a result. As of December, approximately 1.2 million New Jerseyans struggle getting food on the table.
New Jersey’s food insecurity, which CFBNJ defines as “a lack of consistent access to adequate food,” is projected to increase 56 percent, 10 percent more than the projection of the national average. This will affect every area of New Jersey, the report states, and “the public and charitable sectors must prepare for a coordinated, long-term response.”
These responses are made more complex by other pandemic-related matters. According to Stefanie Shuman Schwartz, external communications manager, Stop & Shop stores were unable to run their annual holiday box program due to supply-chain difficulties.
Knowing that the food banks rely on those annual donations, Westfield Stop & Shop Manager Robin Kupsch and her employees took the initiative to run their own version. Customers purchased bags for $10 that would then be donated to the Westfield Food Pantry (WFP) at the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church. Each had food pantry staples such as pasta and tuna, along with paper products, toiletries and hand sanitizer. “The community was so generous,” Ms. Kupsch told The Westfield Leader.
In the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Westfield Stop & Shop donated 600 bags to the food pantry, exceeding its goal of 500. “We feel honored and privileged,” said Ms. Kupsch, “to help our local community.”
Ms. Kupsch said the store would like to run a similar program around Easter and Passover to help bolster the food pantry’s holiday supplies.
“They deserve a lot of credit,” said Rose O’Hare of the Westfield Food Pantry, referring to the efforts of Ms. Kupsch and her team.
Ms. O’Hare said requests for assistance have grown since November. The WFP provides nearly two weeks of groceries to 200 to 250 families per month. “It’s sad to see so many people in need,” said Ms. O’Hare, but thanks to generous donations from community groups like the Boy Scouts, the Westfield YMCA, local businesses and individual families, the pantry has been able to offset the growing demand.
Local-level efforts such as these can be “very effective in ensuring communities have needed resources,” the CFBNJ report states. Pre-Covid, Union County’s food insecurity rate was 8.2 percent. It is expected to rise to 12.9 percent, an increase of approximately 30,000 people.
For more information on New Jersey’s growing food insecurity or how to help, visit cfbnj.org.