WAYNE, NJ – New Jersey has recently hit the highest unemployment rate in its recorded history.  Unemployment benefits are helping, but the state’s system has caused a backup and there are many who wonder how they will continue to feed their family. Lauren Bauer, a Brookings Institute researcher said: “40.9 percent of mothers with children ages 12 and under reported household food insecurity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.” She called this “unprecedented in modern times.”

For Wayne, the numbers are not likely to be this bad, after all Wayne Township is a relatively affluent. But it may come as a surprise to some that there are many individuals and families in our town who would’ve been considered food insecure before the pandemic. Now there are many more and this list will likely continue to grow when unemployment benefits begin to run out.  

Barbara Cohen, the Director of the Wayne Interfaith Network Food Pantry, described food insecurity as not reaching a point of starvation, but simply the worry of: “Do I have enough food in my house to feed my family? Do I have enough food for the rest of the week? Can I buy enough food to last the rest of the week?”

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“I had an elderly client say to me: ‘I’m down to my last two cans of vegetables and tuna fish,’” said Cohen. This is food insecurity at its worst.

Wayne United is a collaborative effort of several non-profit organizations who serve Wayne and the surrounding area.  These local groups have been working hard over the last couple of weeks, collecting food and donations to provide for Wayne families in need. 

The Wayne Public Schools have also stepped up and are now offering free breakfasts and lunches to all students enrolled in the Wayne Public Schools, through June 30.

“Not all students need this program,” said Karen Marron of the Wayne Education Foundation. “By offering this to all the students, it removes the stigma. I think this is such an amazing thing they are doing.”

The challenges that Wayne United faces is 1: The consistent donation of enough food or money to buy food to feed the growing list of food insecure Wayne resident. And, 2: Finding those that need their services. 

Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano said: “There are families who could use this service but do not want to be singled out because of feelings of embarrassment or shame or the belief that there are others who are in greater need.  These are the hardest people to find, but they are out there, and they need help, and we want to provide that help in any way we can.”

Cohen believes there are many who are depleting their savings and dipping into their retirement to keep food on the table. “I wish these people would come to us, and not screw up their retirement,” said Cohen. “Because that’s what we’re here for.”

The Wayne Department of Senior and Social Services is run by Rosemary Acampora, and she may be the most compassionate person in a township filled with compassionate people.  A call to this department can help in a few ways.

“Her department vets those to make sure they live in Wayne and then adds them to our list, so we can begin to provide them food,” said Cohen. “But she can also direct these same individuals to other sources of assistance that might help them in other ways.”

All that the WIN Food Pantry asks is that people sign up through the Township or through the Wayne Public Schools.

“One thing we can’t do,” added Cohen, “is to have people just show up.” 

Tuesday is the day the WIN Food Pantry distributes food packages to clients.  The process is done safely and follows social distancing guidelines. Food boxes are created for specific clients on their list, so it is important to be on that list before coming.

To gain access to the program, there are three ways:

  • If you are a family with children in Wayne Public Schools, call Michael Schmitt, School Nutrition Director, at (973) 317-2239.
  • If you do not have children in the school system, call or email the WIN Food Pantry: (973) 595-1900  -  info@winfoodpantry.org
  • Or call the Wayne Department of Senior and Social Services: 973-694-1800 X 3281 or fill out this form.

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Wayne United will be continuously collecting monetary donations and shelf-stable food items, through groups such as Wayne Volunteers, Feed It Forward, Wayne Helping Hands, the Wayne Council of PTOs, the Wayne YMCA or the Wayne Boys & Girls Club.

Search for these groups on Facebook and find out how you can help.