LIVINGSTON, NJ - The West Essex YMCA has long played a vital role in meeting the community’s health, wellness, and child care needs. When the novel coronavirus hit the area, the Y responded by providing Emergency Child Care to frontline workers at its Peanut Shell Early Childhood Learning Center in Livingston. The Y has also provided access to a basic need that has rapidly increased during the crisis: the need for food.
The West Essex Y has distributed approximately 82,500 lbs of food, or about 41 tons, since May. That amount equals nearly 69,000 meals served to the local community.
“During this unprecedented crisis, we are fortunate to have been able to support our community in a number of ways, including being a reliable resource for residents who are struggling with food insecurity,” said Cheryl Tuturice, District Executive Director of the West Essex Y.
The Y has been serving around 108 families each week, providing boxes of healthy produce, meat, dairy, and other shelf-stable items to community members and local partners, including Livingston’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties, and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church Food Pantry in West Orange. These organizations distribute to families in need through their networks.
With support from the NJ YMCA State Alliance, the Y has partnered with food distributors and suppliers across the state, including Seashore Fruit & Produce Co., and the Community FoodBank of NJ, to get boxes of fruits and vegetables and nonperishable items into the hands of local residents.
Seashore Fruit & Produce of Vineland was awarded a contract from the USDA to participate in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, delivering boxes of fruits and vegetables each week to schools and organizations like the Y to distribute locally. Each box of food is intended to serve a family of four for about a week.
“We are grateful to be in this position to do something about food insecurity during this time. We certainly do not do it alone. Our partnership with non-profit organizations are crucial,” Elizabeth Gregor, Marketing Manager for Seashore Fruit & Produce Co., told the Y. ”We appreciate the outstanding job the Y has done to help get these boxes into the hands of those who need it.”
According to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, Feeding America projects a 56 percent increase in food insecurity in New Jersey due to COVID-19. This means a total of 1.2 million residents will not have the financial means to access food for a healthy, active lifestyle. An estimated nearly 4 in 10 individuals who are served by food banks are relying on food assistance from charities for the first time, due to COVID-19.
The CFBNJ has provided more than 40 million nutritious meals in 2020 with the help of community partners.
"The Community FoodBank of New Jersey is grateful for the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges and all of our partners across the state, whose tireless efforts are the driving force behind our response to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Carlos Rodriguez, President & CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. "Together, we form a network of vital support for our neighbors in need, whether they were struggling prior to this crisis or are finding themselves in need for the first time in their lives."
The partnership between the West Essex Y and Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors is highly valued and was made even stronger by the food distribution initiative, said Stacey Rubinstein, President of LNHN.
“Being able to provide delicious, healthy produce and other essential perishables was simply incredible and a much-needed service for the food insecure families we serve. From one of our recipients we were told, ‘You are all so thoughtful and having weekly vegetables and fruit at our table has been so nice for our family. Especially in these uncertain times, keeping our family healthy with fresh and nutritious food is so important. Thank you for giving kindness through all this wonderful produce. We hope you know how appreciated it truly is!’,” she said.
“We were glad we could serve as the mechanism to reach the families but without the YMCA we wouldn't have had access to the food items and that is everything. It is always a pleasure to work together to help others and more important than ever before as the need is truly unbelievable,” Rubinstein added.
When the coronavirus struck New Jersey, the West Essex Y and its six sister branches were forced to temporarily close. Despite a significant cut in revenue and loss of staff due to furloughs, the West Essex Y joined the pandemic response alongside other Ys in its association and across the state to provide emergency food boxes as the need quickly grew. To date, the Metro Y Association has distributed more than 26,000 boxes and 461,000 meals across six locations in Bergen, Essex, Passaic, and Sussex counties, working with at least 20 community partners.
About four volunteers and staff members help out each Thursday with distribution of food boxes to partner organizations at the West Essex Y, however the Y has lost some steady volunteers to school and work obligations.
The Y has planned another food distribution for Dec. 10. To join the distribution list or inquire about volunteer opportunities, contact Joanne Browne at the West Essex Y, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Without the support of our community, staff, and volunteers, we would not be able to make the impact we’ve made in a short time. We have no intention of stopping as long as our partners are able to provide the food,” Tuturice said.
Strength of Community
The Metro YMCAs continue to provide outreach to the community during the COVID-19 crisis through blood drives, food distribution, virtual wellness and learning programs, employee assistance, and more.
The West Essex and East Orange YMCAs provided Emergency Child Care to 86 children during the first few months of the pandemic.
The West Essex Y held a blood drive in April and again in September, in partnership with Vitalant, securing blood donations to help save up to 96 lives. The Y also hosted a flu shot clinic in October with 59 people attending.
Visit metroymcas.org to learn more about the Y’s initiatives and how you can support the Strength of Community fundraising goal.
The Y has reopened its facilities and programs as allowed by the state, including child care, indoor and outdoor fitness, personal training, and swimming.
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ABOUT THE Y
Established in 1885, the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges invests in its diverse communities to promote wellness, safety and quality of life for children, adults and seniors. Its seven branches in East Orange, Livingston, Maplewood, Hackensack, Hardyston, Stillwater and Wayne are committed to nurturing the potential of kids, promoting healthy living and fostering a sense of social responsibility through an array of programs. Some 35,000 people belong to the Metro Y, which awards more than $2.8 million annually in direct and indirect financial assistance.
With locations in Hillside in Union County and Egg Harbor Township in Atlantic County, CFBNJ works with a network of over 1,000 partner agencies to serve 15 of New Jersey's 21 counties, which also include Bergen, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties; The Food Bank of South Jersey is in Pennsauken in Camden County and also serves Burlington, Gloucester, and Salem counties; Mercer Street Friends is in Ewing in Mercer County and Norwescap is located in Phillipsburg in Warren County and also serves Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, and Sussex counties.
ABOUT SEASHORE PRODUCE & CO.
Seashore Fruit and Produce Company is the region’s leading distributor of fresh fruit, produce, and dairy serving the tri-state area. Seashore provides unparalleled quality, commitment to service, and competitive pricing. Seashore services a diverse customer base, which consists of: K-12 schools, colleges and universities, healthcare and senior living facilities, business and industry locations, national chain restaurants, independently-owned restaurants, casinos, country clubs, and theme parks.
ABOUT LIVINGSTON NEIGHBORS HELPING NEIGHBORS
LNHN is committed to supporting residents in Livingston, NJ struggling with unexpected hardships by providing short term financial aid and a variety of in kind support.
Since its inception, LNHN has helped families in our community with meals, fresh produce, non-perishables, clothing and grocery store gift cards. LNHN has also made monetary gifts (one time emergency assistance) to families in crisis (given directly to the source of the bill and only after a family is screened to confirm need). LNHN also connects families to our township social worker who can connect them with additional resources and support them in additional ways.