Only a few days into the new year and residents on the east coast were met with a “bomb cyclone” delivering snow, wind, and chilling temperatures. In weather like this, cozying up with a warm bowl of food during a frigid winter day seems about as comforting as it can get. For some its chicken noodle soup that warms them up, others a hot helping of macaroni and cheese will do. What if, however, you were forced to choose between a warm meal and a warm home? For some, the decision comes out of desperation and it’s something the staff and volunteers at FBSJ consistently hear from people looking for help.
For Pastor Georgia Dennis of Love Ministries in Pennsauken, one of 250 partner agencies that help FBSJ distribute emergency food resources to families in need throughout South Jersey, providing assistance to the community is an action based on instruction from a higher power, and her call to service connects her with hundreds of people facing these tough decisions. “We see individuals who come in because of an urgent need on a weekly basis,” states Pastor Georgia whose involvement with FBSJ began in 2011. “Families don’t know if they’re going to have their lights turned off or lose their homes, and we have come across individuals who suddenly find themselves in the category of ‘poor.’ With the food they receive here, they’re now able to pay for their utilities or buy a uniform for their kids.”
Pastor Georgia’s reflections remind me of an impassioned email that came through FBSJ’s Facebook page not long ago from a woman made suddenly ‘poor’ after losing her job unexpectedly: “We can’t grocery shop because we have to pay rent, which is due no later than the 10th, and we don’t have it. There’s a shut off notice for the gas and electric…I am so overwhelmed…”
More than 40 percent of the clients served by FBSJ’s network of pantries, community kitchens, and shelters report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities such as their heat and electric. Many are considered “working poor” trying to make ends meet with an income that falls below New Jersey’s poverty level. Pastor Georgia introduces me to another young woman seeking help for her family of seven. This is only the second time Serena has visited the food pantry.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been here since my husband works, but he just went back to school to level up his experience,” explains Serena whose husband’s salary of just $22,000 covers the cost of housing, feeding, clothing, and caring for herself and her children whose ages range from 18 years old to her youngest twins who are just four years old. “We survive off his salary since I have the twins to take care of, but I keep up with my education as well so that I can provide more when they’re older. I try to make ends meet with what I have and utilize these resources when I need to.”
The food Serena and her family receive from the pantry provide a much needed leg up as they face the colder months ahead, and she’s not the only one thankful for the food. “We are so grateful to FBSJ and the corporations and community members who partner with us to provide help,” states Pastor Georgia who notes that the driving force behind their distribution are the partners whose funds keep their operation afloat and the volunteers who are dedicated to their mission. “Our goal is to leave a mark in this community…we believe that strong families give birth to strong values and that takes work…it’s more than just food. We provide the necessary tools to help them develop those life skills needed for success.” This mission echoes a greater goal for the Food Bank of South Jersey to become a center for sustainable solutions, and it’s something that cannot be accomplished without your help.
To learn more about how to help and make a donation that will benefit families like Serena’s visit www.foodbanksj.org/how-to-help today.