While hunger remains an issue year-round, donations tend to decrease in the warmer weather months. To help keep supplies up and strengthen its network, the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties has launched a five-year strategic plan. Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desiree Taylor that the organization’s goal is to provide hope for the community.
The food bank’s capacity and storage pose challenges, according to Rodriguez. “We work with over 260 charities in Monmouth and Ocean counties and we’re distributing food to 127,000 people each year,” he said. “One of the challenges for us is really to make sure there’s enough capacity within our charities to store food, especially now that we’re really focusing on fresh produce. We know it has a short shelf life so we have to store it carefully and make sure that we move it and turn it around quickly.”
Technology is an important tool for the food bank. Rodriguez said it will allow the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties to give partners access to its full inventory so they can better plan their menus for soup kitchens or pantries.
While the master plan covers five years, Rodriguez said, “We’re going to be tackling a little bit of everything immediately.” The food bank will be rolling out a new truck as early as next month to increase deliveries and get more food out. He said the goal is also to get more fresh produce to those who need it.
Hunger is still a problem throughout the state, Rodriguez said. “In New Jersey we have just about 2 million people living at 200 percent of poverty. That’s a family of three earning about $35,000 a year,” he explained. “Could you imagine anywhere in New Jersey trying to survive on $35,000 a year? And in Monmouth and Ocean counties it’s about the same. Poverty and food insecurity continues to be stubbornly high.”
Rodriguez said between 9 and 11 percent of the population in Monmouth and Ocean counties are poor and making less than $35,000 per year. Because of its location in the New York metro area, the cost of living is more expensive than other parts of the country. “And with unemployment being so high, it’s no wonder that families are having a hard time making ends meet and deciding whether they’re going to put food on the table or keep the lights on,” he said.
In addition to providing families with food when they need it most, Rodriguez said the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties also tries to connect families with other parts of the safety net, including food stamps which are now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). He said that program allows families to shop at local food stores, giving them purchasing power and boosting the local economy.
Donations to the food bank tend to peak during the holiday season with Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Rodriguez said his organization deals with hunger throughout the year, especially when people remain unemployed for months at a time. Summer can be particularly hard for families when children leave school for the summer. He said sometimes a child’s main meal is the school lunch and that disappears during the summer.
“So usually we see a lot more children coming to pantries and we try to make sure there are resources — continuous resources — for them and their families,” Rodriguez said.