NEWARK, NJ - In the era of COVID-19, Essex County's free food distributions have popped up nearly every week in various locations throughout the county.

On Thursday, Saint James AME Church on Martin Luther King Blvd. was ground zero for the distribution of more than 1,000 boxes of food.

Those seeking food assistance began lining up early in the morning and the line of cars stretched down Court Street all the way to Broad Street. All the food was distributed within 90 minutes.

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Efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus have shut down vast parts of the economy, leaving many jobless and food insecure. In total, the state has received 1.2 million unemployment claims since mid-March, when the viral pandemic first touched ground in New Jersey.

Essex County has been among the hardest hit counties in the state with more than 20,000 postive cases and more than 2,100 deaths.

The Rev. Dr. Ronald Slaughter, pastor of Saint James, said he was honored Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo selected the church for the county's weekly distribution point.

"One thing that COVID-19 has done is exposed the existing wealth and health disparities in this country and our county." Slaughter said. "People from all walks of like, suburban and urban are hurting severely. The food distribution program is helping Essex County residents to get through this pandemic."