Hunger Finds New Home in Union County

Pantries struggle to stock the shelves as more families go from donating food to asking for help.

The men and women who run food pantries across Union County generally love the holidays. It's the time of year that they know they can count on their neighbors, thankful for their success throughout the years, find it in their hearts to supply enough food to keep the shelves stocked and bellies full. But this holiday season is unlike any many in the pantries have seen.

Those who once volunteered or donated food items are alarmed by the new faces they see in line for assistance. Hunger no longer is easily defined as a problem for the unemployed or underemployed. Today, they help men and women from nearby towns, people who don't want their friends and neighbors to see that they need a helping hand.

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.

The food pantry run out of the has been serving all of Union County for more than 30 years.

"We usually feed six families a day out of the food pantry," said Bill Crandall, who has served as a volunteer there with his wife Nora for the past 15 years. "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 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:
  • Tuesday:
  • Wednesday: and
  • Thursday:
  • 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 have ongoing collections, the Boy Scouts, Temple Emanu-El, , 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. " 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.

Food Pantry Location Hours Contact Needs 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 908-352-5154 x24

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 asmbramnick@njleg.org or visit www.jerseycares.org.
Rosemarie McCallion December 04, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Although food can only be picked up on Tuesday mornings at the Scotch Plains pantry, non-perishables can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 9 to 4 in the Recreation Dept. at the Municipal Building and at both the Fanwood and Scotch Plains Libraries during their hours of operation.
John Malar December 04, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Public libraries in Union County, including the Cranford Public Library, are accepting food donations to be distributed by the New Jersey Food Bank. The program runs through December 16.
jonesppeter December 24, 2011 at 07:21 AM
I personally am a huge fan of the street food in nj. There's not much vegan fare in NB so I was so happy to discover this tasty place! <a href="http://www.dimpleusa.com/">street food in nj</a>
KWC December 25, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Thanks for the link, jpp. I'll have to check that out next time I am in the Bruns. You would think a big college town in a purplish state would be fertile soil for vegetarian restaurateurs.


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