NEWARK, NJ — For more than 40 years, Newark Emergency Services for Families (NESF) has worked to stabilize families and individuals in crises in the community and Greater Essex County, but nothing could have prepared the local non-profit organization for a global pandemic. 

As COVID-19 dealt a devastating blow to the city Newark and the county, NESF’s shelter and food pantry drop-ins volume nearly quadrupled since March 2020 - with lines stretching as far as two blocks and parents standing with their children outside of the pantry’s doors. 

“Around the time COVID hit, we were struggling as many non-profits do, and we saw the numbers start to grow,” NESF Executive Director Amina Bey told TAPinto Newark. “We started seeing it get more and more packed, and we had to start doing people in shifts… We got to the point where we emptied out our shelves and our freezers.”

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With supplies out of stock, the executive director explained that to continue to provide individuals with emergency services and necessities, the organization had to dip into its operational funds.

The Newark outreach organization even went as far as diverting budgeted money away from its phone bill in order to feed people, Bey said. As a result, NESF’s phones were shut off twice, however, a commitment to serve the local community remained. 

For more than four decades, the organization has provided emergency food, clothing, shelter, utilities, rent, and other basic necessities during times of crisis. The homeless, the working poor, seniors, dually diagnosed, and those affected by fire, eviction, or domestic violence have been the focus of the Newark-based outreach group’s efforts.

Although it appeared as if NESF was running out of means to help individuals and families in need, Bey said a “God-send” soon pulled through with $100,000 in aid granted by the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. The funding, she said, will now help the site continue its operations to feed individuals in need. 

“It was like the sky opened up,” she said. “People don’t realize the stress and strain that non-profits and community organizations go through during this time. We are never really seen as ‘essential’ until we are.”

With the new boost in funds, the executive director said that the state program also provides technical assistance support and routine check-ins. The aid will allow the organization the opportunity to once again hold massive distribution events and toiletries in addition to serving 400-plus hot meals and hand out 700-plus grocery bags, according to Bey. 

“It’s been really amazing to get the support we have received,” she said. 

Alongside the ability to provide additional services to locals in need, several other resources the organization intends to allocate the funds towards will include direct assistance for homebound senior citizens, prepared-meals for homeless residents and families currently dependent on meals provided through the schools. 

“During this pandemic, our organizations have really helped keep the communities together, and it’s not over,” she said. “I know we have the vaccine, but we are going to be in this for a while. It’s going to take us a while to get us out of this place we are in, so the support is needed.”