Union County Freeholders Establish New Food Insecurity Task Force as COVID-19 Crisis Continues

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In an effort to help more Union County residents who are experiencing financial hardship during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Freeholder Board is coordinating its food distribution efforts through a new Food Insecurity Task Force, with the goal of ensuring that assistance reaches every individual and family in need as the economic fallout of the crisis continues. The Task Force will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, September 2.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has created new financial stresses, burdens and barriers to food access,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella. “Our civic partners and private sector donors have done an outstanding job of stepping up to provide food to those in need during this public health emergency. This crisis is far from over, and the new Food Insecurity Task Force will help us build on our work with a coordinated effort.”

“The COVID-19 crisis has had a direct impact on the need for food assistance to our residents. The County’s Department of Human Services administers the federal SNAP nutrition assistance program, and it has received more than 9,000 new SNAP applications since the COVID-19 outbreak began in March. As measured by data from the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, food insecurity in Union County has risen from 8.2% to 12.9% due to COVID-19,” explained Freeholder Sergio Granados, liaison to the Human Service Advisory Board.

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“The Food Insecurity Task Force will improve communication and coordination among our partners to leverage all resources and develop an effective and efficient service delivery system to get food to those in need during this national health emergency,” added Freeholder Granados.

The new Task Force builds on the work of the Covid-19 Crisis Non-Profit Consortium, established by Union County Director of Human Services Debbie-Ann Anderson, which has coordinated the resources of the County and non-profit organizations. The Task Force members include the Union County departments of Human Services and Economic Development, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, United Way of Greater Union County, Union County Meals-on-Wheels, St. Joseph’s Social Services Center, the Salvation Army of Elizabeth, Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey and Community Bank of New Jersey.

The Task Force will also address underlying food insecurity issues that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, including untreated mental illness, inadequate school-based nutrition programs for children, unemployment, and lack of affordable child care.

Freeholder Granados noted that County employees joined with members of the Freeholder Board and volunteers from non-profit organizations to begin distributing boxes of shelf stable food and fresh produce in May. Union County has also organized food donations for thousands of residents in partnership with the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and United Way of Greater Union County, with local social service agencies, other civic organizations, and with many individual volunteers and donors.

Since March, Union County’s Division on Aging in the Department of Human Services has delivered more than 200,000 meals to seniors and other home-bound residents, including more than 100,000 meals delivered to seniors who cannot use congregate meal sites due to COVID-19 safety precautions.

Jewish Family Services and the Union YM-YWHA have delivered a total of almost 12,000 kosher meals between March and August. In addition, a two-week supply of shelf stable food was provided to more than 2,000 seniors through the Meals on Wheels program. Human Services has also provided food to more than 150 families through its Division of Social Services food pantry since March.

In addition, a newly announced partnership between the Freeholder Board and Kean University will enlist student volunteers to help support a series of large scale, drive-up food distribution events organized by Union County and the Community FoodBank at the school’s campus on Morris Avenue in Union Township, which is also the site of the free Union County Drive-Through COVID-19 Test Center. The food distribution events take place on days when the Test Center is not in use.

To date, Union County has received $399,000 from the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act to fund meals for seniors through September 2021, and $759,656 for meals through the federal CARES Act.

For food and other assistance, Union County residents can call the Department of Human Services Action Line at 888-845-3434 or 908-558-2288, or email DHSAction@ucnj.org.

Seniors age 60 and older can call the Division on Aging toll-free at 1-888-280-8226, or call 908-527-4870, 908-527-4858. Spanish speakers may call 908-527-4863.

For more information and updates on all Union County services during the COVID-19 outbreak, including guidance for using the Drive-Through Test Center at Kean University and a list of locations for walk-up tests, visit ucnj.org/coronavirus-update.

For general information about COVID-19 and phone contacts for 24/7 assistance with questions, visit the New Jersey Department of Health at nj.gov/health.

For all Union County programs and services visit ucnj.org, call the Public Info Line, 877-424-1234, email info@ucnj.org or use the online Contact Form.

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