The Washington Township Public School District has partnered with the Food Bank of South Jersey to bring free meals to those in need every third Wednesday, starting on March 17.
The food bank has served meals in Burlington, Camden and Salem counties and other areas. Its first active pantry in Gloucester County was started in the Woodbury Public School District less than a year ago. Washington Township will now be the second active food bank in that county.
“In light of what the pandemic has done when it comes to food insecurity, we were very anxious to offer this,” said School Community Outreach and Registration Assistant Jan Giel. “It is absolutely something that is essential for a lot of families. Some people think that Washington Township doesn’t have any problems, that they aren’t Camden, but that’s not the case at all.”
Giel and other district employees came together for training with the food bank to start their own pantry. According to the food bank’s winter newsletter, all four counties across South Jersey have had an increase in food insecurity. Gloucester County food insecurity has increased by 60.8 percent, with one in eight people and one in five children affected.
“Our mission is to provide an immediate solution to the urgent problem of hunger by providing food to people in need, teaching them to eat nutritiously and helping them to find sustainable ways to improve their lives,” said Robyn Lockett, senior manager of Direct Service Programs for the Food Bank of South Jersey.
“When a representative of the Washington Township Public School District reached out to me for help, I wanted to fulfill our mission by providing the needed assistance.”
The pantry will bring a truckload of food to Washington Township High School, behind the 9-10 building, between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on every third Wednesday of the month. Donations will range from fruits and vegetables to milk and eggs, frozen meat products and canned goods.
“FBSJ receives food from a variety of sources: USDA and NJDA programs, retail food donors, wholesale food donors, individual or group food drives, and purchased food with funds available through generous grants and financial contributions,” Lockett explained.
“We strive to provide nutrient-dense, healthy foods for children and families.”
Once delivered, food will be unpacked and set up on tables across the basketball courts of the high school. Participants can register and then choose foods that volunteers will help load into cars. Vlunteers include students in need of community-service hours.
“I have enough volunteers right now for sure, because I don’t know what to expect for the first time,” Giel noted. “Right now, we did it on Wednesday because we are remote and there are no students in the building. But what it will look like when school goes back into session full time we don’t know. We will have more access to student volunteers if the students are in the building.”
Due to the pandemic and resulting food insecurity in the state, any New Jersey resident can receive assistance in the township. Giel hopes township residents will take advantage of the new pantry.
“We have started a pantry in all of our schools; our high school has a pantry,” Giel said. “So this is just additional and supplemental that will help families in need.
“We are just happy to do it.”
The school district continues its free and reduced lunch program, available to all township students. They or their families can pick up packaged lunches from the school that include multiple meals.
“We don’t know what families are going through in the pandemic,” Giel said. “It is hard for us to gage how many people have lost their jobs or are underemployed and are not able to meet their rent and utility bills. We know there are people that have food insecurity: Every community has a need and some have more than others.
“I think we have to offer this to families that are in our community that have this need,” she added, “because there are definitely people out there.”
Those interested in volunteering with the Food Bank of South Jersey can contact its Volunteer Services Manager Gerald Tieyah at (856) 662-4884, ext. 160, or email email@example.com.