Families in Essex County line up to receive boxes of food

With unemployment claims skyrocketing, more and more families need help putting food on the table. And that was evident in Essex County where people waited for a free emergency food box in a line that never seemed to end.

Resident Arlene Danchak got in line around 8:15 a.m.

“Food is scarce and money’s tight,” she said. “It’s everything, the social distancing, worrying about getting the virus because I’m 82.”

The wait times varied, depending on the time people arrived in line. In some places, the line went down the street, while others were forced to drive around a loop in Branch Brook Park. Others were stuck at an intersection near the pickup location.

“We’ve been waiting approximately 40 minutes,” Anthony Castro said.

“We’ve been waiting in line for one hour,” said resident Aria Lopez. “At this point it is worth it. I haven’t been working since the quarantine started, so this is a really good help for the family.”

The Community Foodbank of New Jersey partnered with Essex County to have more than 100 volunteers and law enforcement officers distribute food to help those impacted by the coronavirus. Carlos Rodriguez, the organization’s president and CEO, says the goal was not only to feed families in need, but also relieve some of the stress on food banks that are helping more and more people in crisis.

“We have over 2,000 boxes of food. These are our pandemic meal boxes. Each box has about 40 meal servings. In addition to that, we have fresh produce, potatoes, onions,” he said.

Rodriguez says volunteers starting setting up the pickup location at around 2 a.m. and says the first car arrived well before 8 a.m.

“What we’ve done is we counted out the first 2,000 cars. And after the 2,001 car, we will stop for the day and of course start planning for the next one,” Rodriguez said.

“We obviously have been on the frontlines for the last five and half weeks assisting families that have been displaced because of unemployment issues,” said Anibal Ramos, director of Citizen Services for Essex County.

“To be honest, we’re not working right now and for us to be able to pick up a box of food and help some people out in our family right now, it was worth the wait. You know, people are struggling so it’s no problem to wait in line for some food,” said Belleville resident Gerardo Arencibia. “I’m thankful, but it’s scary. It’s scary to have to wait in a line to get food. It doesn’t feel like this is America. It feels like something else. I’m thankful but I want to get back to normal life.”

To pick up food families had to be in a car. There were no walkups and food handed on a first come first served basis. Rodriguez says he plans to hold another event soon.