Across New Jersey the state has seen an increase in food insecurity since the coronavirus pandemic began to hit residents in 2020.
Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, projected in its latest report last fall that New Jersey would see the food insecurity rate increase by 56%, and that child food insecurity is also expected to increase in the state by 85% from 2018.
Skeet’s Pantry, part of the First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury, is one of many food pantries, along with food banks, that are continuing to provide food for families in need.
“We were kind of seeing a steady number of around 50 to 60 families in the months of August, September and October in 2020. But then in November we always have our great big Thanksgiving giveaway with the turkeys, so we always get a huge number of families; in 2020 it was more than 120 families,” said Carol Kientz, co-coordinator of the pantry. “Usually in December it starts to flow back down to the normal numbers. This time we had an increase – we had 65 families in our mid-December food distribution.”
She said she thinks circumstances are getting more difficult for more families.
“But it is not like we have huge long lines. We have never had that kind of situation,” Kientz said.
The pantry continues to help not only Cranbury residents, but those in surrounding municipalities such as Hightstown, Monroe, Trenton, East Windsor and Plainsboro.
“We do not turn anybody away. Location is irrelevant to us,” Kientz said. “We do not ask for income tax information. We say if you come to us and you are in need that is good enough for us. We do not have people just making it up that they need food. We get to know these families.”
Most of the pantry families come from East Windsor and Hightstown.
“Many are Hispanic or primarily Spanish speaking. We also have an equal number of single-family senior citizen families, so to speak,” Kientz said. “A lot of them are from senior citizen housing in East Windsor and some of our own Cranbury senior citizens.”
An interactive map created by Feeding America provided data on Middlesex and Mercer counties. Both counties have experienced food insecurity growth rates among residents, which has risen from single digits to double digit numbers.
According to Feeding America, Mercer County’s overall food insecurity rate was 8.9% in 2018 and is projected to be 12.7% in 2020. With Mercer County’s population at 367,430, that is an increase from 32,701 residents to 46,663.
Middlesex County’s rate had been 7.3% for 2018 and is being projected to be 11.8% in 2020. The county’s population of 825,062 is expected to see food insecurity increase from 60,229 to 97,357 among residents.
Skeet’s pantry is staffed entirely by volunteers, and has been receiving more support as of late from Cranbury families and businesses.
“We have experienced more people wanting to help in both financial help and food. We have been getting a lot of food donations and it is wonderful,” Kientz said. “I practically have a grocery store in Fellowship Hall. We always need the traditional kinds of foods like peanut butter and jelly.”
Other food items include canned soup, pasta and pasta sauce, cereal and canned fruit.
The church has a red bin outside of its doors for food donations from anyone seeking to donate.
“We are pretty much open to everything right now. We already have a pretty good supply of food that will get us through the next two months,” Kientz said. “We are pretty much welcoming anything people want to donate that is not out of date.”
Distribution of food to families will return to the third Friday of each month after the holidays.
“We are keeping ourselves open to calls from families in between that third Friday, whether it is a family that might come the third Friday of the month but are running short in between, or families that were not aware about us and were referred to us,” Kientz said. “We are definitely doing more in between food distributions during this period.”
In addition to food donations, the pantry will ask for diaper donations beginning this month.
“We have more families with infants and little toddlers in need. Diapers are a pretty costly expense for families and we have had families call and ask if we have them,” Kientz said. “We have not had a whole lot to offer them, so I am going to be asking people to consider donating diapers as well.”
Volunteers at Skeet’s Pantry have also received help from food cooperative Mercer Street Friends and have been using some of the donated funds from the community to also buy low cost produce at a produce market in Hightstown.
“I think we are going to have families in a lot of distress probably through most, if not all, of 2021. The problem is not going away overnight,” Kientz said. “There are many of our regular families that have had jobs now telling us they have lost those jobs. Food pantries are going to continue to be essential for those families, especially low income workers along with seniors living just on their Social Security checks.”
She added that the pantry is going to need continued community support.
“We have been blessed with a lot of support. I hope people will reach out and give in whatever municipality they are living in,” Kientz said.