The Secaucus Emergency Food Pantry on Centre Avenue may be in the enviable position of not experiencing a sharp increase in need, but they're also seeing fewer donations.
"We really haven't seen much of an increase," said Lisa Snedeker, director of social services in Secaucus. "I think that's because we're smaller than a lot of other towns, say like Jersey City. But we rely on donations to feed people, and I can tell you that our donations have really dropped over the last year."
With food costs rising, the economy in bad shape, and high heating costs on the horizon, it is likely that more people will be needy this winter.
Snedeker said there have been a couple of emergencies recently that have caused families to rely on the food pantry for short-term need. Once those emergencies passed, however, use of the pantry fell back down to normal levels.
It is possible that, in a small town like Secaucus, people in need are too embarrassed to seek help in town and are going elsewhere for emergency food services. People in North Bergen have, for example, reportedly been taking the bus and walking across the Hudson County border to the Church of Epiphany in Cliffside Park to use the food pantry there, according to a published news article.
Much different next door
Jeff Brunner, the executive director of the Palisade Emergency Residence Corporation (PERC) homeless shelter in Union City, probably wishes he could say the same thing.
"We've seen a huge increase in need," Brunner said last week. "And it's not the stereotype vagrant, single man that people tend to think of when they think about people who use emergency food services. We're seeing a more diverse range of clients: single mothers with children, families, people who work and have jobs but who aren't always able to feed themselves."
The rise in food bank use is largely coming from families, single parents, and the elderly, according to advocates for the poor.
Like the Secaucus Food Pantry, Brunner said the number of donations to PERC are also down from last year.
The situation is similar in Hoboken.
"Many of the people who donate to us are just regular people who will, let's say, buy a carton of orange juice and a pack of napkins for their own family, and pick up a carton of juice and some napkins for the shelter," said Jaclyn Cherubini, director of the Hoboken Shelter. "But if they're having difficulty buying staples for themselves, they're less likely to pick up those extra items for us."
Cherubini's service offers shelter to 50 men and women each night and provides 200 meals every day. She said she has seen a noticeable increase in the number of elderly single women seeking emergency food.
Snedeker, Brunner, and Cherubini all said that so far, they've been able to stretch the food they have to meet the rising need.
Turning people away
But at least one emergency food director in Jersey City who did not want to be named said that he has had to turn people away and has significantly cut back on the amount of food given to needy people.
And others fear the worst is yet to come.
"You generally see more of a need [for emergency food] in the winter," Brunner said, "because in this area we have a lot of seasonal workers who are employed and earn money during the warmer months. But then they get laid off when it gets cold."
He added that food donations also typically increase during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, but this year, "I'm not sure how much we'll be able to rely on the seasonal donations we would normally see at this time of the year...This could be a very rough winter."
How to donate to local pantries and shelters
To donate to the Secaucus Emergency Food Pantry, call Lisa Snedeker at (201) 330-2014. The pantry needs nonperishable items.
To donate to the Hoboken Shelter, call Jaclyn Cherubini at (201) 656-2400. The shelter needs food - both perishable and nonperishable items - kitchen supplies, and toiletries.
To donate to the Palisade Emergency Residence Corporation, call Jeff Brunner at (201) 348-0341.
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