Bill Crandall didn't get any presents for his 80th birthday and he couldn't have been happier.
Crandall didn't want anyone to buy him anything, instead asking family and friends to honor his big day by making donations to the Holy Trinity Food Pantry, to help people who don't have enough to eat. Crandall and his wife, Nora, have served as volunteers for the past 15 years and they are particularly concerned about the increasing need seen at the food pantry.
"We have found that people who used to give us food or volunteer here are now coming here for food," Crandall said.
According to Hunger in America 2010: The New Jersey State Report, the New Jersey Federation of Food Banks provides emergency food for an estimated 830,200 different people annually, a 45 percent increase over the Hunger in America 2006 State Report.
The New Jersey Department of Human Services, attributes the vast amount of those in need to the high costs of housing, health care, fuel and utilities. Sudden illness, disabilities, low paying jobs, and fixed incomes make it difficult for many people to afford food.
"We usually feed six families a day out of the food pantry," Crandall said. "But around the holidays it can be as many as 11."
"And that's not counting the emergencies that come to the rectory looking for help," Nora added.
Diane Riley, director of advocacy for the NJ Community FoodBank, agreed that the number of people who struggle with food insecurity is on the rise.
Riley said the latest available information for Union County, released in September, showed a total of 44,000 people participating in the food-stamp program. That figure represents a 21 percent increase over last year's participants.
In order to be eligible for food stamps, one must be at 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Because not all those who are food insecure qualify for food stamps, additional pressure is placed on local food pantries. In Union County, there are many residents who fall in the gap between using food stamps and not being poor enough to qualify but not earning enough income to purchase groceries they need for themselves and their families.
"According to a community survey from 2010, 11.1 percent of families are living below the poverty level in Union County, compared with 9.5 percent in 2009," Riley said. "We know it anecdotally, but these numbers are great indicators of that increase. Talk to anyone at a food pantry and they will tell you the same thing. More middle-class people who have never been before are now going to food pantries."
After acquiring a referral from a social-services organization, those in need can begin receiving food from a food pantry. Making Holy Trinity's facility that much more popular is the fact that it is one of the very few in Union County that has refrigeration and freezers, which allow for the storage of eggs, butter, yogurt, hot dogs and turkeys.
Having a referral from a social-services agency makes it more efficient for those donating their time, Crandall explained.
"That way volunteers don't need to screen anyone, they can just focus on getting the food to those who need it," he said.
Also, those coming for a food pickup schedule an appointment to do so, often through their social worker. With the exception of Thursdays, when people can come from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., food is distributed between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.
It Takes a Village
Following one of the monthly deliveries from the NJ Community Foodbank, the Crandalls said it can take as many as 50 to 70 volunteers to help sort and stock it.
"The best thing we ever did was spread the word," Bill Crandall said. "Now it's thought of as not just a Catholic thing but a community-wide service."
Volunteers come from all over town on a weekly basis and various organizations take a day to sort and package food before handing it out to those in need:
- Monday: Holy Trinity
- Tuesday: First United Methodist Church
- Wednesday: Service League and Temple Emanu-El
- Thursday: St. Helen's
- Friday: Holy Trinity
With the exception of Thursdays when volunteers work from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the food pantry is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Not only does the community help out by volunteering, they also ensure that the food pantry is well-stocked throughout the year.
"This whole area is very generous if we need food," Nora said.
While the elementary schools and Westfield High School have ongoing collections, the Boy Scouts, Temple Emanu-El, Curves, Stop and Shop and the Post Office hold food drives during different months to help prevent the pantry from being depleted.
"The senior housing development on Boynton collects food for us," Nora added. "Panera has generously given bread to the pantry and St. Helen's often provides fresh fruit and vegetables."
Nora said while the volunteers are always cognizant of expiration dates, demand has gotten so great, that is rarely an issue these days.
"Food is flying off the shelves so quickly," she said.
If the cupboards are bare, the Crandalls said they send an email to friends they know who are always willing to help.
But having enough food is not the only concern at area food pantries. Due to the high cost of fuel and public transportation, getting to a food pantry can also be a problem for those in need.
"We've had people come by bike," Nora Crandall said. "Sometimes people get a ride or a social worker may come and pick up the food if the situation is really desperate. But the train is within walking distance and the bus stop is a block-and-a-half away on South Avenue."
Empathy Leads to Understanding
Beginning Monday, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey is presenting a Food Stamp Challenge in which the organization is inviting everyone to live on the average food stamp budget of $31.50 for one week.
"While living on a food stamp budget for just a week cannot come close to the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week and month after month, it does provide those who take the challenge with a new perspective and greater understanding," the FoodBank's website states.
"This way people can really begin to understand what that means," Riley said.
To help increase awareness about the plight of the hungry, officials from the FoodBank will write and update a blog as the week progresses.
For more information, or to volunteer, contact Bill Crandall at 908-233-5446 or Tom Conheeney at 908-233-2145. For more information about receiving food, contact Union County Division of Social Services at 908-965-2700.
To drop off food donations at local pantries, see the list below.
|Cranford Family Care Association||61 Myrtle Street, Cranford, NJ 07016||
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-F
|908-276-3530||Perishables and non-perishables, funding
|Elmora Soup Kitchen||First Baptist Church of Elizabeth, 402 Union Street||3 to 4 p.m. Sunday||909-352-0579||Funding: Send donations to the First Presbyterian Church of Cranford at 11 Springfield Avenue, Cranford, New Jersey 07016|
|St. John's Food Pantry||Clark Recreation Cafeteria: 430 Westfield Ave., Clark
||Noon to 2 p.m. third Tues of every month||732-388-1216||Volunteers needed from 10 a.m. to noon before distribution|
|Scotch Plains Food Pantry||430 Park Ave., Scotch Plains, NJ||9:30 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays||908-322-6700||Non-perishables|
|Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry at St. Theresa||306 Morris Ave., Summit, NJ 07901||8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Wed||908-277-3700||Non-perishables|
|Sage Elder Care Meals on Wheels||290 Broad Street, Summit, NJ 07901||9 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F||908-273-5554||Non-perishables, volunteers to sort, pack, deliver, fund raisers|
|Westfield Food Pantry at Holy Trinity||336 First Street, Westfield, NJ 07090||Five mornings a weeks||Bill Crandall 908-233-5446 or Tom Conheeney 908-233-2145||Cereal, tuna, peanut butter, jelly, volunteers, funding
|Elizabethport Presbyterian Center||184 First Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07206||2 to 4 p.m. last Wed and Fri of the month||908-659-2182||Non-perishables; volunteers to pack, stock, drive and inventory|
|First Baptist Church Food Pantry||402 Union Avenue, Elizabeth, NJ 07208||4 to 7 p.m. on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Thurs||908-352-0519||Non-perishables, food, funding|
|Hope Center||1181 East Broad Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07201||11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sat (no pantry 5th Sat of any month, closed Thanksgiving weekend)||800-736-2773, 908-994-HOPE||
Individual servings, pull-top tuna, fruit, soups, stews, chili, juice boxes, crackers & cheese or peanut butter, cereal/granola bars, etc.
|Jefferson Park Ministries||477 Madison Avenue, Elizabeth, NJ 07201||10 a.m. to noon and 4 to 6 p.m. on 2nd and 4th Thurs of each month||908-629-0041||Food, funding and volunteers to load & unload trucks, pack food bags, restock pantry|
|Jewish Family Service of Central NJ||655 Westfield Ave., Elizabeth, NJ 07208||9 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-F||908-352-8375||Non-perishable kosher food only, funding
|Liberty Baptist Church||515-17 Court Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07206||1 to 2 p.m. Monday||908-354-3362||Non-perishables and perishables|
|Mount Temon Church Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen||160 Madison Avenue, Elizabeth, NJ 07201||10 a.m. to noon 3rd Thurs||908-351-2625||
Cereal, jelly, canned vegetables, snacks for kids, large cans for soup kitchen
Special needs: volunteers, storage space, refrigerator, freezer
|Saint Joseph Social Service Center||118 Division St., Elizabeth, NJ 07201||Every 3rd Tues and on an emergency basis every 4th Tues
(Clients may only pick up food once a month)
Soup Kitchen - Sat
|908-352-2989||Non-perishables, volunteers, funding, vehicle, warehouse space|
|Saint Mary of the Assumption||Race Street (back of church), Elizabeth, NJ 07202||Food Pantry: 9 to 11 a.m. on 3rd, 4th, 5th Tues
Soup Kitchen: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Wed
Non-perishables especially dry food, canned vegetables, fruit, meat, & tuna, baby food, powdered milk
Special needs: volunteers, funding, diapers, personal care items, people with vehicles to pick up food
|Salvation Army Pantry and Soup Kitchen||1005 E. Jersey Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07201||9 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-F||908 352-7057||Non-perishables, funding|
|LPC Mission Project||1506 Orchard Terr., Linden, NJ 07036||9 to 11 a.m. 4th Fri of each month and by appointment||908-486-3073||Cereal, jelly, canned vegetables, canned fruit, pancake mix, pancake syrup, powdered milk|
|Linden Interfaith Network for Community Services||45 E. Elm Street, Linden, NJ 07036||Contact site. (usually 3rd Mon & Tues of month)||908 925-2523||Non-perishables, volunteers, grant writers|
|St. John the Apostle Pantry||1805 Penbrook Terrace, Linden, NJ 07036||2nd and 4th Fri of each month||732-388-1216||Non-perishables, funding, truck transportation from Community Food Bank|
|Grace's Kitchen||600 Cleveland Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060||11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. last five days of every month except Sundays||908-756-1520||Food, volunteers, toiletries, laundry soaps, used clothing|
|HomeFirst Interfaith Housing and Family Services||905 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060||This site provides shelter, education, child care and advocacy||908-753-4001C x16||Volunteers, funding|
|Plainfield Salvation Army||615 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060||Food Pantry: Tues & Thurs: 9:30-11:30am & 1-2:30pm
Soup Kitchen: Mon-Fri: 12-12:45pm
|908-756-2595||Non-perishables and perishables, volunteers, monetary donations
|Starfish Food Pantry||631 East Front St., Plainfield, NJ 07060||Contact site||908-755-8888||Non-perishables, volunteers, monetary donations|
|Rahway Food for Friends||1221 New Brunswick Avenue, Rahway, NJ 07065||Mon and Tues last week of the month (call for times)||732-388-3988||Non-perishables, refrigeration|
|Helping Hands: Church of St. Joseph the Carpenter||157 E. 4th Avenue, Roselle, NJ 07203||2nd Sunday of each month||908 241-1250||Non-perishables, volunteers, paper products|
|HEARD A.M.E. Food Pantry Program||310 E. 8th Avenue, Roselle, NJ 07203||10 a.m. to noon Saturday||908-241-6890||Non-perishables, frozen food, volunteers, funding|
To participate in a food, toy or coat drive, see the list below:
|Food Drive||Location||Organization||Items Needed|
|Check Out Hunger in NJ||Berkeley Heights Public Library||Community FoodBank of NJ||Canned meat or fish, powdered milk, infant formula, canned soups and stews, canned vegetables and fruits, peanut butter and boxed pasta, rice
|Holiday Food/Toy Drive||Clark Municipal Building: 430 Westfield Ave. Room 18||St. John's Food Pantry and Clark Health Department||Food donations and toys can be dropped off between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday-Friday. A toy box is located outside of Room 18.|
|Westfield Food Drive Nov. 28-Dec. 21||Westfield Memorial Library||Community FoodBank of NJ||Items can be left in library lobby from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
|Jersey Cares Coat Drive||Assemblyman Jon Bramnick's office: 251 North Ave., Westfield
||Jersey Cares||Gently used coats will be accepted through Monday, Dec. 12. The office hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, call 908-232-2073, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.jerseycares.org.|