ELIZABETH — In an effort to help more Union County residents who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19, the Union County Freeholder Board is coordinating its food distribution efforts through a new Food Insecurity Task Force.

Freeholder Sergio Granados said the goal of the task force is to ensure that help reaches every person in need as the economic fallout of the pandemic continues. Food insecurity in Union County has risen from 8.2% to 12.9% during the pandemic.

Granados said COVID-19 has had a direct impact on the need for food assistance to Union County residents. The task force also plans to tackle problems caused by the pandemic in housing, unemployment, untreated mental illness, lack of affordable child care and inadequate school-based nutrition programs.

It will also make sure that people who don't have access to cars will have access to walk-up locations rather than drive-ups.

Union County has organized food donations for thousands of residents in partnership with the Hillside-based Community FoodBank of New Jersey and United Way of Greater Union County.

Since March, Union County's Meals-on-Wheels program has delivered more than 200,000 meals to seniors and other home-bound residents, including more than 100,000 meals delivered to seniors who cannot use congregate meal sites due to COVID-19 safety precautions.

Jewish Family Services and the Union YM-YWHA have delivered a total of almost 12,000 kosher meals between March and August.

As far as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications, there's been 9,400 new applicants from March to August. Granados said unemployment is at about 80,000 but the inclusion of unauthorized bumped that number up to 123,000 in the county.

In addition, a newly announced partnership between the Freeholder Board and Kean University will enlist student volunteers to help support a series of large scale, drive-up food distribution events organized by the county and the Community FoodBank at the school's campus on Morris Avenue in Union Township.

The task force is also involved in the One Stop's American Job Center in making sure they have job resources readily available and job skills training for residents. Granados said he knows it's not easy during the pandemic to go to these locations, so there people can go on the One Stop's American Job Center website and find plenty of resources there to help them out.

To date, Union County has received nearly $400,000 from the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act to fund meals for seniors through September 2021.

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