The state and federal government are not doing enough to help low-income New Jersey residents put food on the table and coupled with a lingering recession, more families are forced into the already strained emergency food system according to anti-hunger advocates.

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media NJ)
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media NJ)

At the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen on Wednesday, the advocates and food pantry clients called for action to address the growing problem of hunger in the Garden State.

"We are seeing it (hunger) in suburbia. We are seeing it in urban areas. It's really kind of an epidemic throughout the state," said Adele LaTourette, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition director. "I've been doing this for over 30 years and I have never seen or heard the stories that I'm seeing now."

The advocates urged the state to revise the Heat and Eat program to help provide more food assistance for an estimated 160,000 households and to do a better job in processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) applications.

'You can't feed your kids with pride'

JoEllen from Princeton runs an in-house day care center, but said she is down to just one client due to the economy. Her application for the SNAP program was denied a year-and-a-half ago and she has been frequenting food pantries ever since. She is not alone.

"I've seen people there that I would never think would come to the food pantry and they have to," JoEllen said. "You have to swallow your pride and go if you want to eat. My grandmother always said, 'You can't put pride on the table and eat it. You can't feed your kids with pride.'"

Weighing some difficult options

Robert from Absecon is a casino worker in Atlantic City. His hours were recently cut. His wife was just laid off from the Revel Casino. They have a 2-year-old son and the family cares for Robert's disabled sister.

Robert said he was forced to go to a food pantry for the first time in September and will have to go again. He hopes there would be enough food.

"If there's not enough, my options are just to cut food out for me and my wife so my son eats," Robert explained.

Not alone in their struggle

David from Ocean Grove is a former construction worker now on disability. He used to receive $158 monthly in SNAP assistance, but that has been cut to $15 per month.

"I frequent food pantries for meals all the time. I help unload the trucks and I also, once in a while go into dumpsters," said David. "Yeah, I have to do these things. I'm not the only one either."