As demand for assistance rises, New Jersey food banks do more with less

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Food banks across New Jersey are having to make do with a lack of volunteers and staff during the coronavirus pandemic, as the need for food assistance increases.

“Normally on a Monday afternoon, we’ve had dozens of people, so 100 people,” says Community Food Bank of New Jersey official Karen Leies.

But now due to strict restrictions on gatherings due to the virus, the number of people that can work at the food bank has been greatly diminished.

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“In this particular situation, safety and prevention is the first priority,” Leies says. “We need to make sure that we stay operational.”

Usually, there are dozens of volunteers that help operate the site. But social distancing rules have put an end to that for now.

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“School groups, corporate groups, individuals, faith-based organizations – all helping to make our work possible. It’s been a dramatic shift. We know that people need to stay home, need to stay safe,” says Leies.

Community Food Bank has around 180 full-time employees. They are now split into three shifts to keep the number of people on the floor minimal. It has turned the food bank into a 24-hour operation.

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Another new step for safety includes having partner agencies who normally go into the building to pick up the food, now pick up the food outside.

Leies says that their work is especially important. Before the crisis, she says that there were about 900,000 food-insure individuals living in New Jersey. But now that many people are out of work, she expected there to be more.

“We heard a recent statistic that 1-in-5 individuals have had their income reduced in the last week, so that just means that the need for our services and the need for us to push out more food and resources into communities of need is even greater,” she says.

Leies says that there is enough food for everyone, but that it just needs to get out to where it is needed.

Since the food bank cannot use volunteers, the best way to help is by donating money online. They say that ever $1 donated can provide three meals for those in need.

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