In typical times, around 900,000 people need help from food banks in New Jersey. These are anything but normal times, with demand estimated to be as high as 50% above normal – and programs are striving to meet the need at a moment when donations are down.

Mary Ellen Peppard, assistant vice president of the New Jersey Food Council, said that as supermarkets were swarmed by customers, their usually large donations shifted to monetary contributions for food banks and prepared foods for frontline workers.

“Our members were not always able to donate as many products as they had in the past because of the demand that we were facing,” Peppard said Tuesday at an Assembly hearing examining the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on food and hunger issues.

Carlos Rodriguez, chief executive officer of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, said the money was welcome as his group has been distributing over 30% more food and needs to buy far more than usual to make up for losses in donations.

“On average, we buy just about $200,000 worth of food” a month, Rodriguez said. “We’re spending over $1.5 million into June.”

Rodriguez said supply chain problems still persist, as well.

“Just this morning we had four deliveries canceled on us and another four pushed from expected to be received this week to maybe hopefully being received later in June and perhaps in July and even into August,” he said.

Food issues were among the challenges that schools needed to meet in March when their doors were suddenly closed. To keep meals flowing to low-income students, new distribution plans were developed on the fly. Now that home-school is almost out for summer, it will need to be re-examined.

Samuel Frisby, chief executive officer of the Capital Area YMCA, said the Y has been distributing meals at 14 parks in Trenton since mid-March – 250 a day at first, now up to 2,700. Even that misses thousands of hungry families, and he’s a bit worried about a drop-off come summer.

“It’s not as organized because no one really knows what’s going on with summer camps,” Frisby said. “Even though the governor said that we will be allowed to run summer camps, many of us wonder how we will actually do so.”

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Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey, said even in normal times there’s a summer decline in meal distribution and that the state must gear up to get food to families that become newly eligible due to job losses.

With traditional food drives in jeopardy, Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, D-Camden, said it’s time to develop creative ways to meet hunger needs, such as getting people to go back though the food they may have stockpiled as the pandemic began.

“Things do expire. I think we just need some sort of program to encourage people to go back into their pantries and provide food to the food banks,” Lampitt said. “Find creative ways to do that type of encouraging because unfortunately I don’t think the Boy Scouts are going to be able to knock on our doors anymore.”

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.