By Alexander Mirabella
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Food banks usually expect to see a decline in donations over the summer, when many households are on vacation. Under normal circumstances they also expect to restock their shelves when donations swing back up again in the fall. However, this year promises to be anything but normal.
Despite signs of recovery in the national economy, local food banks in Union County are continuing to feel the impact of other far-reaching trends. Now more than ever they need our help.
One new factor is the historic drought that has withered crops across the nation. It is likely to have an upward impact on food prices, as predicted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That will have the twin effect of driving more households to rely on food banks while making it harder for others to donate.
New Jersey’s unemployment rate also remains stubbornly high. Other rising costs such as health care, housing, utilities and transportation have combined with the aftereffects of the foreclosure crisis to keep up the pressure on household budgets.
Seniors, the disabled and others on a fixed income are bearing the burden of these trends. Working households that earn too much to qualify for federal SNAP assistance are also hard hit.
The end result is that more households have to make choose between buying food and buying medicine, paying for housing and utilities, or getting to and from work.
These kinds of choices are especially difficult for households with school age children, who have additional needs for appropriate clothing, school supplies, transportation and participation in enrichment activities.
Long term solutions are needed to address the growing gap between low-income households and the cost of basic necessities. But for the here and now, food banks provide some desperately needed breathing room for Union County residents who are struggling to make ends meet.
In response to this increased need, the Freeholder Board has searched for ways to help connect more donors with food banks. One recent success story has been a partnership between our Department of Human Services and local school districts, which we initiated two years ago.
We designed the school-based drives as a convenience for donors, who can drop off supplies when taking their children to school rather than making an extra trip to a collection center.
By using county vehicles and personnel to transport the donations we have also saved fuel and other transportation expenses for food banks, enabling them to focus more resources on providing for those in need.
We hope to continue with this effort in the coming year, and in the meantime I’d like to encourage all Union County residents to keep an eye out for food drives in your community, and to support them whenever you can.