The gentleman was a well-dressed businessman, wearing a suit and tie. He even carried a briefcase.
So what was he doing at the food pantry, which provides food for the needy?
The staff could not figure it out. So they asked him.
“I lost my job,” he told them. “I have kids. I don’t dare go home without food. So I’m going to wait, until no matter how long it takes.”
This is a tale frequently told by volunteers of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, based in Hillside, to highlight the changing nature of poverty in New Jersey.
“People in need of food don’t always wear the same face,” said Julianne Cherry, a Community Food Bank Volunteer. “They come in every color, ethnicity and walk of life.”
Carol Mori, executive director of the Garden State Episcopal Community Development Corporation in Jersey City as well as the Palisades Emergency Residence Corporation in Union City, said people start lining up at their own pantries at 5 a.m. every third Saturday of the month.
“A lot of times, by noon, we’re out of food to give them,” Mori said. “We feed more than 200 families and individuals.”
ShopRite and General Mills provide a helping hand
More than a million people in New Jersey go to bed hungry every night.
These are not only the traditional poor, but many are people once considered middle class.
“When I started at the food bank five years ago, I thought this was going to go away. Thing would get better as we recovered from the recession,” Cherry said. “It’s gotten worse.”
Fortunately, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and local shelters and food pantries get help.
Inserra ShopRite supermarkets, with 40 stores mostly in New Jersey, including Bayonne, Jersey City, and North Bergen in Hudson County, donates more than 100,000 pounds of food to the Food Bank annually.
Donations allow the Food Bank to distribute to local food banks and shelters throughout the state, charging them only for the cost of shipping.
Donors on a Cheerios box
But that’s not the only thing ShopRite does. Each year, at the start of autumn, ShopRite joins General Mills in an intensive five-week fundraising effort. Each year, more than 250 stores in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland compete to raise funds for a local charity as well as the area food banks.
Stores that raise the most money get to select two employees to be featured on a special edition Cheerios cereal box.
Of those competing throughout the region, the ShopRite of Metro Park in Jersey City and the ShopRite at Columbia Park in North Bergen were top fundraisers. The Jersey City store raised $18,475; the North Bergen Store raised $12,759.
Jim Mooney, manager of the Metro Park store, called the fundraising “a group effort” and credited the efforts of the employees for the collection. His face and that of employee Arnett Nesmith were among several dozen faces featured on the box.
Nesmith, a Jersey City resident, said she has worked for the store for about 12 years.
“I made the chili for the hotdogs,” she said.
Employees and management come up with a variety of fundraising efforts, including special events and hotdog sales, as well as asking for donations at the check out.
Columbia Park Store Manager Michael Iannacone, who is also featured on the box along with Katie O’Donnell, said they work together to come up with idea.
“We plan ahead for a year for fundraising,” Iannacone said. “Right now, we’re planning for next year.”
For a ceremony held at the Jersey City store on March 1, Mayor Steven Fulop and Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro praised the Inserra family and highlighted the need for such program.
“Jersey City is soon to be the biggest city in New Jersey,” Fulop said. “It is also the most diverse.”
But he said this isn’t just ethnic diversity, but income as well, and that there is a great need in the city.
“Food pantries have less and less, and yet there is more need,” he said.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco also praised the Inserra family for their efforts in fighting hunger.
“The family has also been a good partner in North Bergen,” Sacco said during a ceremony held on March 2 at the North Bergen store.
Also each year, $500 is issued to a selected food pantry. This year, the Jersey City store selected Garden State to receive the money. The Columbia Park store selected Gospel Tabernacle in North Bergen, which runs a food pantry.
“There is a great need in our community,” said Maria Santos, of Gospel Tabernacle.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.