WESTFIELD, NJ — As businesses remain closed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and unemployment rises, the number of people experiencing food insecurity has increased exponentially.
The Westfield Fun Club, which has provided support and weekly programing for refugee families for the past four years, has now stepped up to support these families through this difficult and unprecedented time.
Beginning March 13, when local school districts including Westfield were closed, social distancing measures were implemented and businesses began to scale back, Fun Club co-founders Alissa Berger and Jenny Tananbaum realized that families in the program were going to require some help with their food needs.
“Their situation is so precarious,” Tananbaum said. “For example, in one of our families, dad is an Uber driver, and mom is a preschool teacher’s aide, which means that they are now both unemployed. Their SNAP benefits [formerly known as food stamps] are about $200 a month, which we know is not enough to feed a family, and don’t cover some essential products like feminine hygiene and diapers.”
Beginning in mid-March, Fun Club volunteers began delivering groceries to the 20 or so families they’ve come to know through the program. But they quickly realized that these few families were just the tip of the iceberg.
The International Rescue Committee in Elizabeth has always worked with Fun Club, and began referring families to them. The number of families doubled each week for the first few weeks, and Fun Club is now delivering supplemental groceries to more than 100 families every Saturday.
The effort begins on Monday, when Berger and Tananbaum review their list to determine their needs for the week. Local businesses, including Outta Hand Pizza, Boxwood Coffee, &grain, MettaCasa and Schieferstein’s Farm, have made food donations. The rest comes from purchases made with monetary donations, and pantry staples and other food items donated by members of the community.
“People have been so generous,” said Berger. “At the beginning, we didn’t know if this would be sustainable, but by the end of every week, we have enough food for everyone who needs it. We don’t want to see anyone go hungry.”
In addition to community members who donate food, Fun Club relies on a core group of volunteer drivers, who deliver two bags of groceries to each family on Saturday afternoons. Westfield Councilwoman Linda Habgood and her husband Gary Zanfagna are among the drivers.
“It’s just so nice to see how everyone in the Westfield community seems to want to lean in and help when a crisis like this come up,” Habgood said.
Mayor Shelley Brindle also recently began delivering groceries with her son Nick.
“The challenge of this pandemic is that there are few opportunities to physically support others, since we’re discouraging physical engagement,” Brindle said. “So when the opportunity presented itself, I raised my hand. I also thought it would be good to provide Nick with some perspective on our own inconveniences and disappointments, which seem minor in comparison.”
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Berger discussed what families’ greatest needs are.
“Rice is a weekly staple for our families, along with dry and canned beans of all kinds,” she said. “We also especially need baking staples like flour, sugar and yeast, as well as sandwich bread. Eggs, milk and fresh produce are important, and can be dropped off on Saturday mornings.”
Berger emphasized that every donation is helpful.
“Don’t be embarrassed to donate even one box of pasta,” she said. “Everything adds up and helps us provide food for these families.”
Fun Club also accepts monetary donations that are used to purchase food, and maintains an Amazon Wish List. Updates are posted on their Facebook page; for information about where to drop off donations or volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“In this crazy uncertain time, we’re all anxious and afraid, and I see that there’s so much good out there,” said Tananbaum. “That’s the big picture — how much people are helping strangers. We’re in this big world that’s now isolated, but everyone is coming together to help. The outpouring is so inspiring.”
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