Coronavirus: Food Bank of South Jersey is prepared to respond as need rises

Coronavirus: Food Bank of South Jersey is prepared to respond as need rises

You need look no further than the empty grocery shelves where canned beans, tuna or dried pasta belong to know the coronavirus has South Jersey concerned about its food supply. The Food Bank of South Jersey said Monday it is responding to the potential for an increase in demand among the most vulnerable in our community, while reassuring South Jersey its food supply chains are intact.

You need look no further than the empty grocery shelves where canned beans, tuna or dried pasta belong to know the coronavirus has South Jersey concerned about its food supply.

The Food Bank of South Jersey said Monday it is responding to the potential for an increase in demand among the most vulnerable in our community, while reassuring South Jersey its food supply chains are intact. Based in Pennsauken, the organization serves Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties.

 

“Our staff members are prepared to mobilize and to expand our existing food resources to serve this community,’’ said Fred C. Wasiak, president and CEO of the Food Bank, which distributed more than 15 million pounds of food, 17,500 senior food boxes and 230,000 summer meals for children last year.

More than 140,000 people are estimated to be food insecure in our region.

Wasiak stressed his team is ready to respond “creatively and with versatility’’ to the crisis.

 
Food Bank of South Jersey has launched a Coronavirus Preparedness (COVID-19) Webpage, which will include up-to-date responses and resources for the community.

Greg Delozier is senior director of Advocacy & Government Relations for the nonprofit.

“We have to be creative in how we deal with this and we have to change as things unfold,’’ he said.

Asked what he most wanted residents of South Jersey to know, he said temporary grocery shortages should not make them question New Jersey’s overall food supply.

“They should be confident that they will be able get food,’’ Delozier said. “We are committed to doing it, committed to getting it to them. Groceries stores will be resupplying continuously, and there is no talk about any problems in the supply chain.’’

 

 The Food Bank of South Jersey works closely with Feeding America to monitor COVID-19 developments, Wasiak said.

And a Coronavirus Contingency Planning Task Force, led by the Feeding America Disaster Services team and leaders from member food banks across the nation, is also supporting local food banks including in South Jersey, he added.

Wasiak wants South Jerseyans to know that Food Bank staff and partners are taking extra precautions to ensure all food donations are safe.

“The health, wellness and safety of the food-insecure communities we serve, as well as our employees, partners, agencies and volunteers is a top priority among staff,’’ the Food Bank said in a statement.

“As we prepare for the anticipated spread of COVID-19 throughout the South Jersey region, we take seriously our mission to continue to provide food resources to those most in need, conducting food distribution, food collection and food supplies management upholding the safest and most sanitized and efficient best practices,” Food Bank officials said.

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“As you know, every hour it is changing,’’ Wasiak reflected. “So, with our senior team, we are having daily morning huddles, and each team director is assigned based on their expertise into categories to make sure we meet the needs of our stakeholders’’ including food pantries and all of their mobile services. Many agencies, such as the Red Cross, are reaching out to us, and we are seeing additional partnering opportunities.’’

Wasiak said he and other Food Bank officials would be working with Camden-based Campbell’s Soup, one of the Food Bank’s largest partnering agencies, to discuss the company’s response in terms of resources.

While the Food Bank is happy to consider accepting donations of shelf-stable or frozen foods from regional restaurants that have either closed or are willing to donate surplus, they are not able to accept prepared foods from any source.

The organization is also watching closely federal regulations that govern SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other hunger relief programs. A federal judge Friday blocked a measure by the Trump administration that would have disqualified 700,000 people from the program, citing concerns about the affect of the coronavirus pandemic. It would have gone into effect on April 1.

As it is, SNAP recipients were impacted as their 20-day benefits ended on Friday, the day when many people stockpiled food for self-isolation, he said.

Delozier is also working with government officials including the United States Department of Agriculture on some of the regulations regarding summer food programs for young people.

“There are many regulatory rules associated with federal food programs, which determine eligibility,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, these rules require registration and verification that result in long lines of people and the need for close interaction. We need to serve those in need and protect both the community and our staff.”

How to help

While the Food Bank continues to accept non-perishable food items from the community, Wasiak said it is better to make monetary donations through the website.

“In house, we are practicing best practices of social distancing and … we will greet people who arrive with shelf-stable canned goods. But it’s much easier to hit our donation button for our emergency food fund,’’ which Wasiak adds was important during last year’s federal government shutdown.

“That Emergency Food Fund is even more important in the unprecedented climate that we are in, so we can continue to serve the ones we’ve been serving, but as there is more of a need.’’

Tammy Paolino covers restaurants, breweries, food trucks and arts events for the USA TODAY New Jersey Network. She’s an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered the Garden State for more than 30 years. Reach her at tpaolino@gannett.com or 856-486-2477 or on Twitter @CP_TammyPaolino. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.