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Governor Christie Discusses Hunger at Red Bank Panel [AUDIO]

Agreeing that hunger is a non-partisan issue, Governor Christie said the image and perception of hunger needs to change.

Governor Chris Christie participates in a roundtable discussion with Willie Geist and Tom Coliccio titled “Soul of Hunger” for the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Christie spoke on a panel, alongside with Chef/Restaurateur/Producer Tom Colicchio, discussing the issues of hunger plaguing New Jersey’s working poor at “Soul of Hunger Forum,” a roundtable discussion hosted by Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and The New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition.

At a discussion in Red Bank, the Governor spoke, in addition to Lori Silverbush, co-director of “A Place At The Table”, Bob Aiken, CEO Feeding America, Carlos Rodriguez, Executive Director Food Bank of Monmouth & Ocean County Counties, Richard Saker, President & CEO of Saker ShopRite Inc, Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Ellen Vollinger, Legal Director for the Food Research & Action Center, and David Kountz, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Kathleen Dichiara with the Community Food Bank gave some startling statistics about hunger in the Garden State. She noted there are 863,642 on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, which is 50,000 more than last year. She added that 980,000 people live in poverty, while only 36,000 families are on welfare.

In the panel moderated by NBC’s Willie Geist, Christie and Colicchio spoke about the need to change the perception in hunger.

The Governor noted one of the reasons hunger is not often discussed on the political stage is because those suffering from hunger often carry a social stigma, and, especially individuals who considered themselves “middle class,” are less likely to make their problems known.

“You have folks who are middle income and have lost jobs because of the recession. For those folks, the stigma is even more stark and difficult to overcome,” said Christie, who adds these people are more likely to go to food banks or to charity rather than to governments programs.

Collicchio pointed out the conversation needs to change in regards to hunger, especially the perception that people who receive hunger assistance benefits are “takers” or “lazy.”

“We know that the majority of people receiving SNAP have at least one member of the family working. We also know that before you receive SNAP, the year before and the year after, you’re working. People think there is widespread fraud in the system, but we know there is only one percent fraud. This is a program that supports working poor, the elderly, children, and people and disabilities.”

But with one in six people in a state of food instability, Christie said the problem affects people who would be considered “middle class.” Colicchio agreed that fundamentally the perception of hunger has to change from the Sally Struthers Feed the Children commercials that people were used to seeing in the 80s.

In New Jersey, Christie said there have been numerous programs have been enacted in the state such as the “Breakfast After the Bell Program,” which provides breakfast to students after school starts rather than before, and pilot programs to get those living in food deserts access to fresh fruits and vegetables via a grocery delivery program.

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