New Jersey food banks are facing increased prices and difficulty sourcing and transporting food,another ripple effect of the global supply chain logjam created when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down factories, closed ports, caused a shortage of shipping containers and sickened truck drivers.
And while the backlogs strained supply, business closures to stem the spread of the pandemic left large numbers of New Jerseyans unemployed and in need of help feeding their families for the first time.
“There’s been a huge demand in need since the pandemic, riddled from day one with supply chain issues,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the largest anti-hunger, antipoverty organization in New Jersey, which provides food to local pantries in 15 counties. “The shortages that supermarkets are dealing with translated into less donations to us and increased costs.”
Before the pandemic, the Community FoodBank purchased about 10% of the food it gave out to families. Now, it is buying up to 36% of meals, because retail stores and supermarkets don’t have the capacity to donate as much as before, Rodriguez said.
And that dollar amount is huge considering how the organization has ramped up its aid, from 50 million meals in 2019 to 84 million meals in 2020 and an expected 93 million meals this year.
“You hear stories of cargo ships with foreign products being backed up,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t buy a lot of foreign food, but the higher competition places a squeeze in product, which causes price fluctuations we have to shoulder. At the beginning, we were paying 20% to 25% more for basic staples. We’ve gotten better, but it’s something that keeps us on our toes literally every day.”
To protect themselves in case of shortages, The Community FoodBank leased an additional warehouse so it could overstock and pull from the storage if needed.
Food costs are up 4.6% compared with a year ago; meat, poultry, fish and egg prices spiked 10.5%, according to the September Consumer Price Index.
The products with price increases vary. At one point, it was aluminum cans. Now there’s an issue with apple concentrate, Rodriguez said. “I had a whole education about how many products contain apple concentrate,” he said.
The Community FoodBank passes out more than 10,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners, and turkeys cost about 35 cents a pound more than they did last year, Rodriguez said.
The Center for Food Action, an Englewood-based nonprofit providing food, housing and utility assistance to low-income families, is having a difficult time finding apple juice boxes for snack packs it passes out to children to eat on the weekends, said Irwin Vogelman, director of operations.
Nourish.NJ, a Morristown-based nonprofit that provides food, housing, employment training and medical services, was searching for chicken on the bone, but no food distributors had what the group needed because Tyson Foods, a major chicken supplier, was having supply issues, said Dave Bein, nourish.NJ’s chief operating officer. So instead the organization had to buy more expensive boneless chicken, paying more per pound for the cooked meals it gives out.
It’s not just food that’s been getting more expensive for the food banks. Gloves that workers wear in the kitchen shot up from around $38 a case to $80 a case in the last 18 months, Bein said.
Transportation has also been a hurdle: The Community FoodBank has been waiting more than a year for its order of half a dozen 26-foot trucks because of the shortage of vehicle computer microchips, Rodriguez said.
It needed to replace aging vehicles and increase the number of trucks to handle more deliveries, so the food bank rented trucks in the meantime, spending more money in the long run.
And relying on other firms to make deliveries now comes at a risk.
“We have had a few of our vendors call us and say, ‘Look, I know you’re expecting a delivery on Wednesday. We don’t have a driver; we’re gonna come on Thursday,’” Bein said. “That doesn’t really help when you have people lined up and waiting for a meal.”
In those cases, nourish.NJ would often send its employees down to the food distribution or wholesale produce company and pick up orders from the warehouses, Bein said.
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The Center for Food Action faced a similar issue transporting goods. “Some items are available, but there is no way to quickly ship them to our warehouse,” Vogelman said.
Another new complication cropped up with orders: Many vendors are asking for higher minimum orders because they have limited drivers or staff. It becomes a delicate choreography to handle bigger orders, because nourish.NJ doesn’t have its own warehouse or much storage space.
The nonprofit will transfer food to its refrigerated truck, which it keeps running, and three hours later will pass out the food at its farmers markets.
Because nourish.NJ doesn’t want to rely on just one vendor that may not be able to meet deliveries, the nonprofit is contracting with multiple companies, sometimes paying more instead of relying on the company with the lowest bid.
And through it all, the need remains.
“This pandemic is going to take a long time to climb out of for many families, especially as they face the same increased costs in goods and housing,” Rodriguez said.
Bein agreed. “The people we’re serving are still struggling,” he said. “We can’t let them get lost in the shuffle. We need to keep focusing on them and giving them the help they need.”
Want to donate? These are food pantries in New Jersey:
- Hackensack Seventh-Day Adventist Church. 106 Euclid Ave., Hackensack. 201-489-6390 or hackensacknj.adventistchurch.org
- Christ Episcopal Church in association with Tri-Arc Community Development Corp., 480 Warwick Ave., Teaneck. 201-833-4502 or christchurchteaneck.org
- Center for Food Action, 192 W. Demarest Ave., Englewood. 201-569-1804, ext. 25. Also 316 First St., Hackensack. 201-883-9375 or cfanj.org
- Hasbrouck Heights Food Pantry, 320 Boulevard, Hasbrouck Heights. 201-288-0195
- CUMAC, 223 Ellison St., Paterson. 973-742-5518 or cumac.org
- Human Needs Food Pantry, 9 Label St., Montclair. 973-746-4669 or humanneedsfoodpantry.org
- St Mary’s Food Pantry, 22 Lakeside Ave. (rear of building), Pompton Lakes. 973-831-4442 or stmarys-pompton.org
- nourish.nj (formerly Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center), 36 Sussex Ave., Morristown. 973-267-0709 or nourishnj.org
- St. John’s Soup Kitchen, 22 Mulberry St., Newark. 973-623-0822 or njsk.org
- House of Love Soup Kitchen/Pantry, Church of God & Saints of Christ, 589-95 Central Ave., Newark. 973-204-7713 or houseoflovesoupkitchen.org
- Church Women United Food Pantry, 1240 Clinton Ave., Irvington. 973-373-5930.
- Community FoodBank of New Jersey, 31 Evans Terminal, Hillside. 908-355-3663; 6735 Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township. 609-383-8843 or cfbnj.org
- Interfaith Food Pantry, 2 Executive Drive, Morris Plains. 973-538-8049 or mcifp.org
- Rahway Food for Friends, 1221 New Brunswick Ave., Rahway. 732-381-7201 or rahwayfoodforfriendsnj.org
- Hands of Hope Food Pantry, St. James Episcopal Church, 2136 Woodbridge Ave., Edison. 732-236-3330 or handsofhopenj.org
- Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen, 18 Neilson St, New Brunswick. 732-545-9002 or elijahspromise.org
- Food Bank Network of Somerset County, 9 Easy St., Bound Brook. 732-560-1813 or somersetfoodbank.org
- Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK), 72½ Escher St., Trenton. 609-695-5456 or trentonsoupkitchen.org
- Flemington Area Food Pantry, 154 Route 31 (in front of Walmart parking lot), Flemington. 908-788-5568 or flemingtonfoodpantry.org
- JBJ Soul Kitchen, (Jon Bon Jovi’s restaurants that serve paying and in-need customers), 207 Monmouth St., Red Bank (732-842-0900); 1769 Hoover Ave., Toms River (732-731-1414); Robeson Campus Center, 350 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., Newark (closed) jbjsoulkitchen.org
- Lunch Break, 121 Drs. James Parker Blvd., Red Bank. 732-747-8577 or lunchbreak.org
- Bradley Food Pantry, 605 Fourth Ave., Bradley Beach. 732-775-0161 or bradleyfoodpantry.org
- Fulfill (Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County), 3300 Route 66, Neptune; the B.E.A.T center, 1769 Hooper Ave., Toms River. 732-918-2600 or fulfillnj.org
- Food Bank of South Jersey, 1501 John Tipton Blvd., Pennsauken Township. 856-662-4884 or foodbanksj.org
- Cathedral Kitchen, 1514 Federal St., Camden. 856-964-6771 or cathedralkitchen.org
- TOUCH New Jersey Food Pantry, 549 State St., Camden. 856-803-3030 or touchnewjersey.org
Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter covering affordable housing and its intersection of how we live in New Jersey. For unlimited access to her work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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