By: Ana Altchek, Follow South Jersey Intern
PENNSAUKEN, N.J. – As state and local levels of COVID remain low, the Food Bank of South Jersey continues to expand their scope through developing vaccine initiatives and education webinars in Burlington, Gloucester, Camden, and Salem Counties.
While COVID may not directly relate to food, Rose Gaano, Food Equity Program Manager, says that the Food Bank shares a holistic outlook in their approach of looking at the overall health of people. The Food Bank of South Jersey also collaborates with community organizations who provide assistance with housing and workforce development to help those in need of additional aid and resources.
“The Food Bank has evolved,” Gaano says. “During the pandemic people were experiencing food insecurity for the first time so we kind of pivoted in terms of trying to assist everyone.”
According to the Food Bank of South Jersey, before the pandemic, more than 35 million people total, and 10 million children in the United states struggled with hunger. After the pandemic, 50 million people, and 17 million children, struggle with hunger.
In addition to the increase in food demand during COVID, food donations declined and mitigation in trade, as well as disruptions to the charitable food assistance system’s operating model, presented a crisis within the food insecure community. Luckily, the Food Bank of South Jersey has had generous support during this time that allowed them to take extra steps to be proactive and help others.
The Food Bank of South Jersey works to create collaborative partnerships with agency partners, medical and educational institutions and partake in community health programs that support food, nutrition and health equity. Since COVID began and the needs of local residents shifted, the Food Bank of South Jersey started new health initiatives relating to COVID.
As of last week, South Jersey currently holds some of the lowest numbers for vaccine rates with both the first and second dose. Even though South Jersey is trailing behind, nearly 90% of New Jersey residents received at least a single dose by the end of March, making it one of the top states for vaccination rates in the country. With that said, residents across the state have been less proactive with getting the booster shot, with only about 75% fully vaccinated.
In Burlington County, the Food Bank of South Jersey has partnered up with healthcare providers and food pantries to support vaccine clinics and increase accessibility. Gaano says the Food Bank serves as a liaison between the health care providers and food pantries by promoting the event and setting up the site. The most recent clinic took place this past Saturday, April 9.
Additionally, the Food Bank has partnered with the NJ Black Women’s Physicians Association to host covid vaccine education town halls and webinars called, “Rona and You.” These sessions are meant to give an overview of the importance of getting the vaccine as well as address concerns and hesitancies around it. The next meeting will be held Tuesday, April 12, and they are also lined up through April and May.
“It’s very helpful to have the healthcare providers there in person so if anyone has any concerns they’re there to answer the questions,” Gaana says. “It’s important to empower the community with knowledge so that they can make the best decision for themselves.”
In order to increase their bandwidth, the Food Bank will be expanding these initiatives in Camden County. While they have not launched yet, they are working on finalizing details and getting clinics and town halls set up.
Before COVID began, the Food Bank of South Jersey mainly focused on food, nutrition and sustainability. Since the pandemic though, the number of food insecure individuals has risen drastically. In 2019, the Food Bank provided 11 million meals over the course of the entire year. In 2020, the Food Bank administered 11 million meals just in the first quarter of the year. As the need for food and resources increased in the area, the Food Bank expanded their reach and level of programming.
Prior to the pandemic, the Food Bank of South Jersey partnered with agencies and organizations in the area by delivering food to locations in need, such as apartment complexes, schools, or sites of worship. They also helped provide meals for children over the summer and gave virtual and in-person classes about nutrition and wellness.
Even though these events are held and targeted at certain counties, many are open to the public. Additionally, their website offers a multitude of resources with general information about their services, available recipes and educational videos about nutrition and health.
As the country reopens and life resumes back to normal, the impact of COVID will continue to mark the lives of those in lower-income communities. With that in mind, promoting the vaccine remains vital in order to prevent another shutdown that will leave members of the community unable to work or access resources that they need to survive.
Currently, the Food Bank of South Jersey has 200 partnering agencies and 39 mobile distribution sites. They also delivered 17.9 million pounds of food over the last year and 868,577 meals to children this past summer. For more information on volunteer or donation opportunities, as well as food options, visit their website at https://foodbanksj.org.
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