September is Hunger Action Month: How you can help in NJ
September is designated Hunger Action Month by Feeding America, a nationwide awareness campaign designed to mobilize the public to take action on the issue.
"Right now, the FoodBank is providing one in 10 residents in Monmouth and Ocean Counties with emergency food and services, and that includes 40,000 children," said Linda Keenan, director of development at the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
Keenan said the agency has found families do not have access to resources through which they can obtain food, so in addition to food distribution, the FoodBank has different income support benefits for which families can apply.
But, Keenan adds it's really access to the food that's most important.
"It comes down to poverty, and ... over 62 percent of the people that we're serving are working one or more jobs, so a big percentage of the people we serve are the working poor," she said.
The number of people who qualify as being in poverty has grown significantly over the last five years, according to Keenan.
"It's at 185 percent to 200 percent of the poverty level that we find these families are in need of support because they're really having a difficult time taking care of basic needs, home, clothing, and then food," Keenan said.
The FoodBank works with 300 feeding programs throughout Monmouth and Ocean Counties to distribute the food, and provided more than 11 million meals to those families in need last year, according to Keenan.
"We continue to really focus on nutrition because there is a direct correlation between good nutrition and good health, so in our distribution, we had over 2 million pounds of fresh produce that was provided to these families in need," said Keenan.
She also said the FoodBank tries to educate families by providing tips on healthy eating and spending money for food while on a budget.
Support from the public is how the FoodBank is able to continue helping new families everyday, coming for the first time seeking assistance, according to Keenan.
"Everyone can make a difference. They can help us pivot from that negative effect of hunger to a positive impact of a community coming together to help their neighbors, and that's what September Hunger Action Month is all about," Keenan said.
The public can help by donating, food, money and time, according to Keenan.
"For every dollar we receive, we can provide three meals. We have very strong purchasing power. Every dollar makes a difference," said Keenan. She also said that for every dollar the FoodBank receives, 95 cents goes directly to food and programs.
"We have extremely low overhead, so the people who are making donations to the FoodBank know that it stays local, and that it's going directly to those families in need," Keenan said.
The FoodBank has 300 partners in its network in Monmouth and Ocean Counties that are authorized feeding programs and include pantries, soup kitchens, churches, synagogues, shelters and group homes, noted Keenan.
"We like to say from the FoodBank, we feed the programs that feed the people. We are the major distribution center," she said.
The FoodBank is gearing up for the 25th Anniversary of its Culinary Classic on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, at Doolan's in Spring Lake. The fundraiser features a tasting with more than 40 local restaurants, wineries, breweries, and entertainment, and Keenan said it's a chance for the community to come out and have an enjoyable evening knowing that by attending, they are helping others in needs.
Keenan also said the Bringing Everyone All Together (BEAT) center on Hooper Avenue in Toms River — a collaborative effort between the FoodBank, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Kitchen and People's Pantry — is proving to be a tremendous success since opening last spring. The resource hub enables families and individuals in Ocean County to go to one stop to get the support they may need.
Information about how to make a donation and volunteer, or to purchase tickets for the FoodBank's event, see foodbankmoc.org.
Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com.
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