With nearly 1 million people struggling with food insecurity in New Jersey, our team realized a long time ago that we can’t solve the hunger problem alone. That’s why CUMAC leads the Community Food Coalition, a collection of pantries and agencies around the area committed to fighting hunger in our area. The idea behind the coalition is simple, agencies meet every other month to discuss needs, issues, and ways they can work together to serve our clients. Through collective action, more can be accomplished.
Walk into a CFC meeting and you’ll see a room full of faces. There are currently 20 members in the coalition, and most of them are very active. The meeting starts with a few updates from our partner pantries. Several CFC agencies have recently switched over to new software, which allows them to handle client intake electronically, something that CUMAC has been doing for the past couple of years. This new system makes many of the pantries around the room very excited and the meeting is an opportunity to get some feedback and answer any questions about the software.
“I hate paperwork” says one CFC member. “This makes life simple for me.” Along with speeding up client intake and cutting down on paperwork, the software gives pantries the option to easily track their data and receive comprehensive reports. As pantries try to plan ahead and better serve their clients, these reports make a big difference.
After discussing software, the meeting changes focus. CFC members engage on a wide range of topics: one pantry is now distributing diapers for the first time and wants to know best practices, another pantry has an excess of pallets and they’re looking for ways to get rid of them, while several others talk about the needs of their clients and some additional services that can be provided. The hour quickly passes as pantries talk about their experiences, ask questions and give advice. The meeting ends with some thoughts about a healthy produce program, spearheaded by CUMAC, where fruits and vegetables are shared with CFC members twice a month. The food is picked up and delivered, and allows pantries to get more healthy items to the hungry.
“Our clients love it” says one pantry supervisor. “And it helps us be able to do more for our clients. We give them cans, now they’re getting fruits and vegetables, so they get excited. They’re walking out with 4 or 5 bags instead of 2 or 3. That’s enough to really feed your family.”
The produce program has been a huge hit with the CFC, and it’s just another example of how agencies are coming together to ensure that needs are being met across the county. By regularly communicating, our pantries stay on the same page, and we are in a position to better serve our clients.
“I think the best part of the coalition is that all the different pantries come together and you can learn from each other. All the problems you have, you can talk about it here. And you might learn that other pantries have gone through the same problem, and there’s a way to resolve it” says Darrell Bell, pantry supervisor for St. Luke’s Baptist Church. “Or we talk about issues we’re all facing and how we can work together. Rather than making individual decisions, we’re doing things as a group. Now throughout Passaic County we can be on the same page. I look forward to the meetings. I really do. This is great group.”
We’d like to thank the CFC pantries for all that they do to fight hunger. Together, we’re making a difference in our community.