The economic aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and current inflation surge has forced many Americans to come to grips with a new financial reality. Dreading weekly trips to the grocery store, cringing as the credit card is swiped— everyone is feeling the pinch.
According to the US Census Bureau, 7.4% of Warren County residents lived below the poverty line in 2021, and more than 8% of households required public assistance.
Sometimes families have to make compromises based on what they can afford. To pay for car troubles, medication, or the electric bill, food may be neglected. When a household does not have consistent and sufficient access to food it is classified as food insecure.
The New Jersey State Health Assessment Data reported that 7.4% of New Jersey residents struggled with food insecurity in 2020. In Warren County, 8.9% of the population was food insecure.
As need persists, and even in some cases increases, local organizations are stepping up to provide food for the community.
“In the last three years, we have more than doubled [the number of families] we were having before the pandemic,” says Claire Smith, Director of the United Methodist Church of Blairstown’s food pantry.
“Our largest number has been 63 families. And that was the month of September.”
Six churches in the locality offer food pantries under an alternating schedule, serving those in and outside of their community. Residents from Belvedere, Washington, Hackettstown, and Sussex County have received aid, too.
Smith explains that every month previous clients are called and given an order sheet. Families make a list of what they need and come to pick up their packaged groceries on Saturday.
But sometimes it’s more than groceries. Cleaning and hygiene products are offered along with clothes— sometimes food for pets is available.
Donations come from several places. Organizations like Norwescap and ShopRite offer grants to stock the pantries and Acme and Panera Bread donate rolls or loaves of bread. Local Share, a group that operates under the Food Shed Alliance, gleans crops from nearby farms and delivers fresh produce every weekend.
“The month that we had 63 families, [Local Share] brought 600 pounds of fresh vegetables,” Smith remarks.
Blairstown and Warren County residents can donate food for these pantries at the collection shed located at the Blairstown Municipal Building.
On November 12 Blairstown Boy Scout Troop 140 hosted their own collection drive, receiving donations for Thanksgiving baskets distributed by the Methodist Church. These baskets include a turkey with all the fixings and dessert.
Committee Chair of Troop 140, Lynn Lubrecht, spoke of that long-term partnership.
“We have assisted them with stocking their food pantry for years. What we used to do was go to the A&P at the time and hand out flyers to folks going into their store. We would ask people to buy something extra on the way out, we made a list of products that the food pantry could use.”
Things, however, have changed.
“Unfortunately, when the A&P got bought out by Acme and wouldn’t let us do that anymore. I don’t think it’s the local group that is against it. I think they know that we’ve been there for years. It’s unfortunately corporate. I think their hands are tied,” explained Lubrecht.
Now scouts visit neighbors, friends, and families to spread the raise awareness of poverty and food insecurity in the area. The Boy Scout leaders educate members on the reality of food insecurity.
“It’s surprising to them that there are people right here, you know, that are potentially their neighbors or kids they go to school with where food is not something that they are guaranteed,” said Lubrecht.
Adding, “And it’s not just your food, it’s your shampoo, it’s your baby products, it’s your diapers, your wipes— things like that all costs a lot of money. And when you have to decide between, if I’m gonna pay the rent, I’m gonna eat, the electric bill… this is a sad thing to have to skimp on.”
For the food pantry rotation schedule and contact information click here.