The Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ), Mercer Street Friends, and Norwescap today announced a $2 million commitment to fund food pantries and soup kitchens within their collective 15-county service area. Grants will be awarded to help community organizations sustain their operations through a difficult winter and expand their capabilities to respond to the dramatic surge in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Round One of this Network Investment Initiative has been launched in collaboration with the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund’s Endurance Grants program. The remaining funds will be given out via the food banks’ own request for proposals process. Distribution of grant funds to selected organizations will be facilitated by the Community Foundation of New Jersey.  

“Our partner organizations are absolutely vital to CFBNJ’s mission delivery. Without their tireless efforts as the boots on the ground in the fight against hunger, we could not operate efficiently or effectively,” said Carlos Rodriguez, President & CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “This financial commitment to network capacity is just the beginning of our multi-year plan to meet their most urgent needs of the moment and to ensure our shared future.”  

For Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, and Union counties, funds will be awarded by CFBNJ. For Mercer County, grants will be administered by Mercer Street Friends, and in Hunterdon, Sussex, and Warren Counties, grants will be administered by Norwescap. 

“As the Food Bank for Mercer County, Mercer Street Friends is proud of our many partner organizations that have stepped up their efforts to battle food insecurity during this pandemic,” said Mercer Street Friends CEO Bernie Flynn. “We are pleased to participate in this program to help small and medium sized pantries continue their critically important work.” 

“Norwescap is excited for this opportunity to help build the capacity of our nonprofit partners to reach more people and provide much needed support at this critical time,” said Mark Valli, CEO of NORWESCAP. 

The initiative begins as New Jersey has seen an estimated 56% increase in food insecurity due to the pandemic, a spike larger than the increases nationally and in neighboring states. At the same time, food banks’ partner organizations are struggling to serve their communities at a time when they are most needed, whether they need equipment to make outdoor food distribution possible in winter, additional refrigeration to store perishable food, or an infusion of funds to address rising demand. The current food insecurity crisis is expected to outlast the pandemic, and about 82% of New Jersey food pantries surveyed by the David Tepper Charitable Foundation anticipate a rise in demand for emergency food over the next three months.  

CFBNJ, Mercer Street Friends, and Norwescap invite proposals from their existing network partners for grants ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. While the initiative will prioritize small-to-medium-sized food pantries and soup kitchens (operating budget less than $500,000), applications are welcome from any network partner in need of support. Eligible expenses include household and hygiene items for clients, winterization expenses, capacity expenses, and emergency operating needs. 

CFBNJ, Mercer Street Friends, and Norwescap partner organizations interested in applying for one of these grants should visit cfbnj.org/networkinvestment for more information. 

Proposals are due by February 19, and organizations will be notified of their awards by March 5. Virtual technical support webinars will be offered on February 12 and 16 for organizations requiring assistance with their applications. A recording of these webinars will be posted on cfbnj.org/networkinvestment