NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ  - As the government shutdown continues, the Middlesex County food bank is stepping up to offer assistance to furloughed federal workers and urging the rest of the county residents to pitch in with donations to stock dwindling supplies.

"Federal employees from local agencies of the IRS, TSA and EPA who are not receiving a paycheck are forced to tap into savings and make difficult choices to pay their bills and keep food on their table and need our support," said Jennifer Apostol, director of Middlesex County Food Organization and Outreach Distribution Services (MCFOODS).

"The MCFOODS network of more than 120 food pantries throughout Middlesex County are ready to assist federal employees who may need assistance, many waiving eligibility requirements and offering additional hours," Apostol said in a statement.

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A directory listing these resources is available on the MCFOODS website at www.mciauth.com 

Along with the furloughing of workers, the shutdown is expected to impact the federal food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. The monthly benefits for February were issued last Thursday, 10 days earlier than usual, Apostel said, adding that recipients will be forced to more carefully budget these funds.

"At this point there is no guarantee that funds will be available for March," Apostel said. "We anticipate a rise in need and food pantry usage by the middle to end of February if this shutdown continues," she said.

Although food panties often see donations increase just before the holidays, Apostel said, those surpluses will be dried up and supplies will be low.

"We need local businesses, clubs and groups to host food and fund drives now to help us keep pantry shelves stocked and ready to support those in our community who need our help," the director said.

She is urging residents and business to set up food drives and said collection containers and transportation of donations is available from MCFOODS.

Monetary donations payable to Feeding Middlesex County and be made either electronically through that organization's website or with by sending a check to PO Box 781, Edison, NJ 08818.