Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the urgency of creating the Beloved Community. Today, as we move into this New Year together, and on this day especially – the observance of Dr. King’s legacy of community service and care – I hope this message finds you and all the loved ones in your community healthy and strong.
Last year was undeniably a year for the record books!
Together, we faced the greatest food-insecurity and unemployment crisis to hit our nation in a century. Thanks to our remarkable donors, partners, supporters and friends we were able to increase our capacity, strengthen our reach and feed South Jersey during what was a brutal year for many.
- Over 22.5 million pounds of food distributed – the equivalent of more than 18.7 million meals. Nearly ONE MILLION children’s meals distributed to our most food-vulnerable youths. Over 95,000 people each month provided with wellness-sustaining food.
- A regional landscape altered dramatically by surging food insecurity, with food insecurity increases within our four-county service area of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties of approximately 50 percent and, for some communities, as high as 60 percent, with an alarming uptick in child food insecurity throughout all counties.
- Our food distributions through 2020 welcomed more than 40 percent of food participants new to receiving food from a charitable organization. As we increased our capacity to serve swelling numbers, we restructured our in-person Health & Wellness programming to bring nutrition awareness and healthy eating education to South Jersey – virtually.
- The crisis of food insecurity in South Jersey changed dramatically during 2020, elevating at alarming rates almost overnight – creating a year of hunger for our region, and our nation. Our region was not spared from surging unemployment, as individuals and families once spared from economic hardship sank into poverty.
Before South Jersey was hit by COVID, the region, as well as the entire State of New Jersey, had one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Census. About a tenth of the population lived below the poverty line, a lower share than the nation as a whole and far better than the vast majority of other states.
However, due to the economic punch of COVID, the experience of poverty encompassed more South Jersey households – building upon the systemic poverty that already posted challenges to tens of thousands trying to survive in one of the highest cost of income states in the nation. Concentrated poverty has been on the rise in New Jersey in the last two decades, with COVID accelerating this threat to food security.
It is this rise in poverty, as well as the consistent crisis of systemic poverty, that fuels our mission to create a sustainable South Jersey.
Our intention for 2021 is to continue expanding our partnering initiatives to further grow our network of food distribution, as well as foster initiatives that provide support to fight systemic poverty. Only through the addressment and response to the plight of systemic poverty will we enable and empower a food-secure South Jersey.
As 2021 comes into focus, we are galvanized as an organization to shorten the line! What do I mean? As we continue to focus our efforts on expanding and strengthening our capacity, we are focused on three key mission objectives to meet and exceed our region’s need for food.
- We will FEED the line: As our COVID-19 response continues into 2021, we will continue to bring millions of pounds of food into our communities, from wellness kits to large distributions, from child feeding programs to senior feeding programs – we will continue to feed South Jersey.
- We commit to SHORTEN the line: With an organizational vision to continue to grow our neighborhood reach and infuse South Jersey with sustainable health and wellness strategies, we commit to doing all we can to shorten the line and rebuild food security for many – and introduce food security to many more. Providing food is not the cure for systemic, concentrated poverty, it is part of a larger solution that helps those who need temporary food assistance. As we emerge into 2021, we as a community need to do much more by providing opportunities to eliminate the inequities which adversely affect the communities we serve.
- We will work tirelessly to ELIMINATE the line: While food insecurity will be pervasive during 2021 and, in all likelihood, a component of our community for years to come, we will endeavor to expand and institute programming, services and resources to, one day, eliminate the line – bringing food security to all South Jersey households.
Since the start of the our COVID-19 emergency food response last year, thousands upon thousands of our neighbors waiting in line for food throughout Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties have presented a sobering and deeply troubling view of the magnitude of the hunger crisis that threatens us all.
Together, forever inspired by the belief in building and sustaining the Beloved Community that Dr. King’s legacy still drives us towards, we will work to bring South Jersey’s hunger crisis to an end.
Together, we can share our vision for a food-secure South Jersey.
Fred C. Wasiak
President & CEO, Food Bank of South Jersey
WAYS TO GIVE
You can commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr by helping to feed our South Jersey community. Make a donation online to Stuff the Bus now until Friday, Jan. 22, 2021.
Take charge in driving out hunger in South Jersey by hosting a virtual food drive. Every $1 raised will provide South Jersey with 3 meals.