PATERSON, NJ – With unemployment rates at a record high in Paterson, demand has skyrocketed at local food pantries as more families struggle to make ends meet.
Now five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, more residents have become “food insecure,” meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, prompting food banks to try to help fill the void.
According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, the number of food-insecure people in New Jersey will increase by 56% this year due to the economic repercussions of the pandemic.
Before the outbreak, 10.4% of Passaic County’s population was food insecure. Now, that number is expected to grow to 15.3% this year, according to Feeding America’s new report, “The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity,”
At CUMAC in Paterson, the non-profit has seen a jump in the number of families seeking assistance and, thanks to the support of generous donors who have stepped up in recent months, the organization has been able to ensure its clients don’t go hungry.
Mark Dinglasan said while they are grateful for the “tremendous support” of their donors during the public health emergency, the organization is “reaching a point where more support is needed.”
Pre-pandemic, as the largest food distribution program in Passaic County, each month CUMAC regularly fed 2,500 low-income people and provided produce and other surplus health foods to an additional 1,900 people.
At CUMAC, which runs a food pantry and multiple programs aimed at alleviating hunger, one in three clients are children, one in six are disabled and one in eight are senior citizens.
CUMAC saw a 92% increase in demand for food in May compared with a year earlier. Last month, they served 56,000 meals to more than 3,700 families. The month before, 49,905 meals were distributed.
“We are witnessing first-hand the continued effects the virus has on our community as they continue to reel from circumstances beyond their control. We are always the first to see an increase in need and the last to see a decrease,” said Dinglasan.
After the outbreak’s onset, CUMAC, in collaboration with five other non-profits, formed the Passaic County Pandemic Partnershi, to launch a food delivery service for individuals who are homebound or have difficulty obtaining nutritious food.
On average, 11 driver teams deliver food to 82 families each week, many of whom are seniors and young mothers with newborn babies. Additionally, 250 families and individuals recently released from St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center receive food as they are discharged to allow them to quarantine once home, according to CUMAC.
“Even after the job market opens up, bills that were set aside will still be there. It will take time for many of our families to catch up. We need the generous support of our community now more than ever,” Dinglasan said.
Food banks across the state report similar spikes in demand, which has placed a strain on pantries and their budgets and left them calling for donations so they can continue serving the community.
Gov. Phil Murphy recently announced that up to $20 million in funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will be allocated to several food banks across the Garden State. The Community Food Bank of New Jersey, which is where CUMAC purchases some of its food for a nominal charge, is among the agencies set to receive federal funding.
Murphy, calling food banks “a critical lifeline for New Jersey families now more than ever,” said the federal funding to some of the state’s largest food banks will help feed hundreds of thousands of residents.
Even as people gradually return to work, food banks expect demand to remain high due to the large amount of people out of work or underemployed right now.
In May, 25.20% of Paterson residents were out of work, a slight decline from 26% the previous month, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.
Within Passaic County, the unemployment rate as of May was 18.70%, a decrease from 19.80% in April.
How To Help
While food donations are still accepted and welcomed, the CUMAC staff prefers to source and purchase fruits, vegetables and lean meats that will help change health outcomes for clients.
CUMAC purchases food for a “nominal handling charge” at the Community Food Bank, in bulk at retailers, collected via large-scale and local food drives and donated by groups and grocery stores. CUMAC also rescues fresh food that would be otherwise thrown out and distributes it at its Marketplace.
“We are seeing more and more new families come to us for help and while we appreciate food donations from the community, what we really need now are financial resources so that we can meet the dietary needs and provide nutritious basics that our families so desperately need,” Dinglasan said.
With roughly 2,000 people donating 40,000 hours per year, CUMAC relies heavily on their volunteers. But after the pandemic suspended volunteer support “nearly oversight,” CUMAC said its staff of 22 “moved quickly to keep things fully operational.”
Now, CUMAC is looking to bring on between 12 and 15 volunteers per day to help out.
Kayann Foster, Volunteer Coordinator said that CUMAC is “working diligently to make sure our staff and volunteers are safe by cleaning every day, wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Many of our loyal volunteers are back, and we hope to see more people return very soon.”
If you would like to donate or volunteer, visit cumac.org/donate or call 973-742-5518.
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