Last week on these pages we featured Lisa Snedeker and her “Secaucus Emergency Fund” charitable organization. This week, we focus on the Emergency Food Pantry program that the Department of Social Services runs out of the Secaucus Senior Center. Snedeker, director of Social Services, has her office on the first floor of the Senior Center which is located at the corner of Irving Place and Centre Avenue. The food distribution program is also located at the Center. Qualified, needy residents pick up two supermarket bags of food every other Thursday morning at the Center. They also receive meat, fish and poultry that are kept frozen in numerous freezers situated throughout the first floor of the building. Other frozen food items (i.e., waffles, French fries, etc.) and items that are kept cold in the refrigerators are also distributed to residents. Lisa noted that approximately seventy-five Secaucus families currently participate in the program which is run under the auspices of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
Non-perishable food items are packed into the paper bags ahead of time by Center staff. “We always need paper bags,” Lisa offered. Normally, food items that are donated by supermarkets, restaurants, delicatessens, civic groups, and individual residents are sent to FoodBank headquarters in Hillside in Union County. The items are stored in the huge 285,000-square-foot FoodBank warehouse and then distributed to participating food banks throughout New Jersey. However, Lisa explained that in Secaucus, food donated by Stop & Shop, Walmart, Costco, Panera, Bagel Buffet, Panera’s, Hudson Bakery and many others, goes directly to the storage rooms in the Senior Center, bypassing altogether the Hillside warehouse. This convenient arrangement was set up by Lisa and the FoodBank, but the FoodBank is still the agency officially in charge of the local program. Snedeker and staff member Judy Kennelly have to be certified by the FoodBank in order to facilitate the program in Secaucus.
The Community FoodBank of New Jersey began in 1975 as a grassroots organization (much like the Secaucus Emergency Fund and many other charitable groups), the brainchild of Kathleen DiChiara. The state resident would hand out groceries to needy citizens from the trunk of her car, and then started an official food bank under the auspices of the Diocese of Newark. DiChiara not only founded the food bank, she served as its president and chief executive officer. (She retired in June 2015.) The food bank operated from the fourth floor of the Mount Carmel Building in Newark, and distributed 75,000 pounds of groceries in its initial year. The charity incorporated in 1982, taking the moniker Community FoodBank of New Jersey, and moved to a larger facility in the Ironbound section of Newark. In 1987, with the program growing in scope (unfortunately, the number of needy state residents grew in tandem with the geographic locations served by the program), the food bank once again moved to a 43,000-square-foot facility. In 1993, it moved to its current location in Hillside, a 285,000-square-foot food storage facility. Realizing the need for a location in South Jersey, the Community FoodBank established a 29,000-square-foot facility in Egg Harbor Township that serves 300 community partners. Statewide, Community FoodBank has one thousand partners and annually distributes over fifty million pounds of food.
While corporate donations of food and funds to the Secaucus Emergency Food Pantry are valued and extremely helpful, residents’ donations of non-perishable food items form the basis of the program. Lisa also pointed to an anticipated CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) at year’s end that will help fund the food pantry.
Next time you do your weekly food shopping, pick up some canned vegetables, fruits, beans, ravioli, soups, applesauce, etc., and bring the items (in a brown paper bag, please) to the Senior Center. In doing so, you’ll be helping to feed a hungry Secaucus neighbor. Hard to believe, but, yes, in our booming, wealthy town, there are men and women, babies and children, who are hungry. Monetary donations, of course, are always welcome as well!