The following message is from Robin Peacock, executive director of MEND Hunger Relief Network:
Over the last few days, we have received several inquiries from people who are concerned about those served by MEND member pantries. It is both heartwarming and comforting to know that, while people are taking steps to ensure their own families’ health and well-being, they are also looking for ways to help others in our community who may not be readily able to stockpile food, work from home, and take other recommended precautions.
To that end, I’d like to give a quick update on what we’ve been doing, and ways for you to potentially support these efforts:
- We had our regular monthly food pantry manager advisory board meeting on March 10th, and (thanks to a successful Green Bean Gala the weekend before!) provided each of the 20 member food pantries with a $300 grocery store gift card, so that they could purchase supplemental food for the month to round out their existing food donations/inventory;
- Also at the advisory board meeting, we discussed each food pantry’s plan for dealing with food distributions and the safety of their volunteers and patrons. As expected, concerns centered around having enough cleaning supplies to keep things germ-free, having enough food to meet demand, and modifying their packing and distribution processes to comply with safety and social distancing recommendations.
- A key concern raised has been whether and how children in school-based feeding programs would be able to receive food if the schools closed. We have been in contact with several school districts in the communities served by our pantries, and are confident that there are sufficient contingency plans in place to offer “grab-and-go” lunches to children at their school sites. Some communities have also organized their own food drives to supplement these school meal distributions, and we are exploring ways to align with school district feeding efforts where additional food is still needed.
- We participated in a call with the NJ Department of Human Services, facilitated by the Community FoodBank of NJ, to understand what resources will be available to patrons. The Community FoodBank is preparing 14-day food packs for pantries who are agency partners, and several MEND pantries will be able to receive this resource (subject to availability). We have also encouraged food pantry managers to make sure that all eligible patrons are signed up to receive SNAP benefits.
- Through community-led food drives in Maplewood, South Orange, and Millburn, we have begun collecting specific items requested by our member pantries. As the pantry needs evolve over the next few weeks, we are also preparing to purchase food in bulk for direct delivery to the pantry sites.
- If you have any food items from this list (as well as hand sanitizer and/or anti-bacterial wipes – I can dream, I know!), they would be most welcome. If you live in Millburn or Short Hills, and would like to participate in our social-distancing-friendly food drive, please complete this form. If you live in another town and have food to donate, or would like to organize a food drive, please email [email protected] so that we can work out the details. if you would prefer to make a monetary donation, you may do so here.
- Beginning tomorrow, we are hosting weekly conference calls with our food pantry managers to assess their evolving pantry and operational needs, and to determine how best to support them as this health crisis continues. As we identify additional volunteer or other needs, we will post them here. Please check back often, as it will definitely change over time.
Thank you for your continued support of our work!
Executive Director, MEND Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity