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Food bank working on the front lines of the Sandy recovery effort

It was the end of October and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s Egg Harbor Township warehouse was full of activity with our annual Make a Difference Day. Groups were packaging holiday meal boxes for Thanksgiving – the busiest time of year for food banks. A group of youngsters and their families from Margate stopped by with their annual Shop and Drop, delivering the food they purchased with money raised from their community garden.  They were so happy to be making this donation.

A hurricane was coming and they knew the food would be needed.  In a few hours, many in this group would be evaluating their own homes, and bracing for a storm unlike most of us had never witnessed. Superstorm Sandy was on its way, and for many their lives would never be the same.  

In February, the National Hurricane Center issued a comprehensive report on the human and property toll of this storm, confirming it was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Northeast in 40 years, and was the country’s second-costliest storm ever, surpassed only by Katrina. 

Seventy two deaths are directly blamed on Sandy, and at least another 87 are indirectly linked to the storm.  The dollar estimate has now reached $50 billion.  More than 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey has been on the front lines of the Sandy recovery effort every day – fighting hunger and poverty by offering food, help and hope to those in need. Throughout the state, the Community FoodBank provided more than 5.3 million pounds of food and groceries just in the first few weeks after Sandy, and more than 113,000 meals in the days that followed.  Our dedicated volunteers packed more than 10,000 disaster relief packages, and more than 5,000 food bank volunteers donated over 22,000 hours of service to disaster relief efforts.

Donations to help feed and support those impacted by the hurricane came from far and wide. Many of those helping to serve the need were also among those in need, having lost homes and property to this hurricane. Others were paying it forward, after having survived their own natural disasters.

For the people of New Jersey, Sandy was a sudden crisis, with effects to be felt for years to come. But across the state, every day, there is a slow-motion disaster.  It is hunger, and its impact is felt by children, families, seniors – people who constantly struggle in the face of need.

Sadly, one in five children in New Jersey is affected by hunger, and that was before Sandy. Locally, 136,450 are food insecure. The counties of Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland are among the poorest in the state, and those counties are directly served by the Community FoodBank of New Jersey from its Egg Harbor Township facility.

In Atlantic County, 16 percent of the residents do not have enough food to eat, 15 percent in Cape May County and 18 percent in Cumberland. The numbers are staggering. 

While we know hunger is a constant battle, we don’t know where or when the next sudden disaster will strike.  But being prepared for the unexpected is why the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in one of only a handful of food banks in the country certified to provide disaster relief, and why the CFBNJ has a leadership role in NJVOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).

The mission of NJVOAD is to bring together organizations statewide, such as the Community FoodBank, to coordinate and cooperate, offering more effective help to people hurt by disaster. Through education, outreach and advocacy, NJVOAD is working every day so when the next disaster hits, responders will once again be ready to answer the call.

Margie Barham is the executive director of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch in Egg Harbor Township. You can learn more at www.cfbnj.org and www.nj.gov/njvoad.


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