Today is National Food Bank Day – the first Friday of September. It’s a national day of recognition very few people realize exists, during a month that also may be off the radar for many: Hunger Action Month.
Yet, this year – this very remarkable, very different year – food banks across our nation have been in the news, in conversations and on the minds of millions of people who never before gave the existence of food banks a second thought or stopped to contemplate how deeply hunger permeates our country.
Why? The answer is simple. For most people, food banks seem surreal. They exist, but not in a way that substantially impacts or influences most people’s lives.
What even are food banks? Where are they? Who turns to them? How does receiving food from a food bank work? How big are food banks? Do people borrow food from food banks? Are they really banks? Some people think the food pantry in the basement of their community’s church is a food bank. Some think food banks only exist in big cities – where millions upon millions of people suffer from hunger. Close to home? Many people do not give the idea of food banks a second thought.
Food banks exist, but not for … me.
Until COVID-19. The global pandemic, first introduced to us as Coronavirus and later, COVID-19, and its insidious disruption to life as we all know it, cast an enormous spotlight on the vital role of our nation’s food banks. Communities were hurting. People faced desperation. Food insecurity hit home.
All of a sudden, food banks across the nation were in the news – every day.
All of a sudden, the topic of hunger was top of mind – for more people than ever.
In South Jersey, food insecurity during these days of COVID-19 touched every town in our four-county region: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem. Lines for emergency food distributions stretched for miles. Right now, more than 95,000 people per month depend on the Food Bank of South Jersey to sustain their households. To date, we have provided more than 45,000 emergency food boxes, the equivalent of more than ONE MILLION MEALS, to households in need of food support – and more than SEVEN MILLION MEALS overall in our COVID-19 hunger-relief response since March of this year.
Today, more than 40 percent of the people turning to the Food Bank of South Jersey have never before needed help to find food. Today, more of our neighbors throughout South Jersey understand fully the role of food banks across our nation – and in their own backyards.
As Feeding America reports, now is a challenging and complex time of service for all of our nation’s food banks – including the Food Bank of South Jersey. Before the pandemic, Feeding America and its network of 200 food banks, including the Food Bank of South Jersey, served 40 million food-insecure people. As the virus continues, Feeding America estimates that 17.1 million additional people could find themselves without enough food.
Today is National Food Bank Day – the kick-off day of Hunger Action Month.
Fortunately, every day is National Food Bank Day, because it is every day that our nation’s food banks commit tirelessly, relentlessly and resiliently to carry their communities forward during good times and bad, during natural disasters and global pandemics, during unemployment and the struggles life brings.
It is every day that our nation’s food banks – powered by the compassion and care of donors, supporters, volunteers, partners, community advocates and a sea of devoted workers – rally to provide food, support and hope.
It is every day our nation’s food banks put one more meal on the table before a hungry child, sustain one more senior citizen with food supplies for a week and give one more mother the knowledge her children can wake to a nutritious breakfast tomorrow.
Every day is National Food Bank Day and I, for one, am thankful.
Yours in gratitude and celebration of each and every day,
Fred C. Wasiak
President & CEO,
Food Bank of South Jersey