By Melanie Gorelick, CRC Director
As we prepare to celebrate the miracle of Chanukah, it is important for us to also remember those who are less fortunate and to commit to help them live their lives with dignity and support.
More than 1 million people are hungry in New Jersey, and that number is growing – making ours one of the most food insecure states in the nation. Our state was recently one of 15 that suffered severe Federal cuts that have decreased the number of people who receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). And seniors are at the top of the list of those who experience hunger and receive the least SNAP aid.
Providing emergency food, supporting food pantries, and running nutrition and feeding programs for seniors including Meals on Wheels is a large component of the work of our partner agencies Jewish Family Services (JFS) in MetroWest and Central, JCCs, and Ys. And feeding the hungry is a strong Jewish value that is carried out by our Federation and the majority of congregations in Greater MetroWest that sponsor, organize, or provide volunteers at food pantries and kitchens. But food pantries and community kitchens cannot keep up with the demand, nor can charities and faith-based groups sufficiently address this crisis as federal support lessens.
This is an issue that must be confronted head on. We strongly believe that the government of New Jersey needs to provide a strong safety net for those who are food insecure.
The Community Relations Committee (CRC) is advocating for more government assistance for the hungry and is stepping up efforts to bring together those within the Jewish community as a unified voice for change. Last year we sponsored a Food Stamp Challenge where 18 state legislators and many Jewish community leaders participated – each living on $1.30 a day for a week — to gain perspective on the challenges these people face. This year we are continuing our efforts by working with Mazon, a Jewish Response to Hunger organization, to increase Jewish community engagement and mobilize concerned citizens. We called upon the congregations in our community to join us at the recent launch of this program and were thrilled to have 20 synagogue representatives in attendance.
This month we will be focusing on hunger’s impact on seniors and those with special needs by hosting “NJ Soul of Hunger: The Hidden Reality of Hunger Among Seniors and the Disabled,” a photo exhibit featuring images taken by and of those in our community who struggle with hunger and economic insecurity. The exhibit is on view at the JCC MetroWest, 176 Northfield Avenue in West Orange. This was a joint project between the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and the JFS of Central and Greater MetroWest who provided cameras to the participants.
The photo exhibit will officially open at a press conference at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, December 8 with a distinguished panel of speakers, including Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver; Adele LaTourette, Executive Director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition; Samuel Chu, National Synagogue Organizer, MAZON; Grace Egan, Executive Director of the NJ Foundation for Aging; David Mollen, President of AARP NJ; Diane Riley, Director of Advocacy for the Community Food Bank of NJ; Rabbi Mark Cooper of Oheb Shalom that houses the Bobrow Food Pantry, and representatives of Jewish Family Services in Central and MetroWest NJ (the list is still in formation). All are welcome to attend.
The launch will be followed by a noon meeting with a representative of Mazon to learn about how we as a community can more effectively advocate for those who are food insecure.