By John Burton
Hunger is not a pleasant topic, not something that we like to talk about. But it is real and it is here.
September is National Hunger Action Month and the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, located on Route 66, Neptune, is highlighting the growing problem of hunger and food insecurity throughout the area, as well as throughout the country.
“These remain really tough times for many people,” FoodBank Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez said. Since the financial collapse in 2008, organizations like the FoodBank have seen an ever-increasing demand for food and other services they provide. People have had to make difficult choices between food and other necessities, he said.
Rodriguez said he’s been seeing people who previously came to the agency to donate or volunteer return now to seek help through their difficult times.
The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties’ largest program is the collection of donated food at its warehouse facility. It distributes food to more than 250 partner agencies, including soup kitchens, homeless shelters, day care centers and other charitable organizations. During the past five years the FoodBank has seen an increase of more than 84 percent of those seeking assistance. The agency distributed about 7 million pounds of food to those agencies in 2011.
Those organizations made food available to more than 127,000 people, which adds up to one in every 10 residents in Monmouth and Ocean counties and two out of every five children, according to FoodBank.
Gwendolyn Love, executive director of Lunch Break, a soup kitchen and food pantry in Red Bank, said she sees the reality of these statistics every day.
“More and more people are coming back,” regularly for a hot meal, for groceries and other services, Love said.
On average, Lunch Break sees about 400 families a month who come to get groceries from its pantry. The organization usually serves 60 to 80 meals a day in its soup kitchen.
Lunch Break receives food stock from the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean counties, but relies on its own food drives and purchases additional food from money donated – about $40,000 a year’s worth – to meet the ever-increasing need, Love said.
She wants the initiative by the FoodBank to help raise public awareness, “because we’re hoping their efforts will trickle down to direct service providers in the trenches.”
FoodBank has events and programs scheduled throughout the month, which can be found on its website, foodbankmoc.org.
Lunch Break will hold its own fundraiser, a fall gala kick-off party from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 13, at The Downtown, 10 West Front St., Red Bank. Tickets are $10.