The reports say the economy is getting better.
The unemployment rate is at its lowest in a long, long time at just 4.8%.
And yet, the coordinator of the food pantry at the Salvation Army of Greater Kearny says she’s feeding nearly 110 families each month with food collected from donors throughout the area. A decade ago, when she first began her job, there were a lot fewer families who needed the monthly assistance.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years now,” Rebeca Escobar, an administrative assistant at the Salvation Army, said. “We have 100, 110 families now. When I first started, there were 15 to 20 families who needed food.”
Escobar says there are several ways families who are in need get connected with the Salvation Army’s programs. Some come from word of mouth. Others come from social services. However they come, the need is greater now than ever before.
“We need all kinds of donations, but generally, we always have a greater need for donations of canned items … especially vegetables,” Escobar said.
Escobar says there’s one cause for the greater need for help than anything else right now.
“Unemployment,” Escobar immediately said when asked. “They say unemployment is down. We don’t see that at all. In fact, it’s a lot different. Many of the people who were once donors (to the pantry) are now receiving food. Imagine that.”
For the clients of the Salvation Army’s pantry – or any of the others in the area, like at St. Stephen’s or St. Cecilia’s Catholic churches – there’s still a stigma about having to accept donated food one’s family.
“People are embarrassed,” Escobar said. “It’s not easy going from being the ones who brought food in for others … to being the ones walking out with bags.”
The Very Rev. Joseph Mancini, V.F., K.H.S., pastor of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, Kearny, said there’s always a great need for all kinds of food donations at his parish’s food pantry and other pantries.
“Anything non-perishable is best, however,” Fr. Joe said. “Soups, peanut butter, pasta and sauce (gravy?), vegetables, fruits and cereal.”
What is most important to note, however, is that while donating food to pantries is a noble gesture, donating expired food is not.
All donations – perishable or non-perishable – must include items that have not yet expired. Anything donated with an expiry that has lapsed can’t and won’t be accepted.
The Observer spoke with two families who said they rely on help from local pantries. While members of each family asked their last names not be used for the sake of privacy, they did offer incredible insights as to having to use pantries to be able to put food on the table at home.
Sam H. of Kearny is 46 years old. He and his wife have three children, all of whom are younger than 8. Sam says he never dreamed the day would come he’d have to use a food pantry.
“It’s very humbling,” Sam said. Three years ago, I was working on Wall St. and I had a very high-paying job that put food on the table and allowed me to provide everything my family needed. But when I was laid off, everything changed. Three years without a job. Savings depleted just about. It’s impossible to do anything like we used to. But this is our new reality.
“I know we’re not alone, but it’s a lot to bear. I want better for me and for my family. I give thanks to God, thought, that I can put food on the table thanks to the generosity of so many good people.”
Linda, meanwhile, is married but has no children. She says she’s been out of work for five years – her husband, out of work two. Many years ago, she volunteered at a parish food pantry. Now, she’s one of the people bringing bags out instead of in.
“I volunteered four times a month,” Linda said. “I loved being able to help other people. I never dreamed I’d be on the other end, but I am. Quite honestly, I have no idea where I’d be if these programs didn’t exist.”
If you’d like to donate to local food pantries, or are in need of food, in addition to the aforementioned pantries, find a complete list of organizations that run one at www.foodpantries.org.