With nearly 1 million people struggling with food insecurity in New Jersey, our team realized a long time ago that we can’t stop hunger alone. Under CUMAC's leadership, the Community Food Coalition(CFC), a collection of nearly 20 pantries and agencies around the area, have been working together to fight hunger in our community. CFC agencies meet every other month to discuss needs, issues, and ways we can collaborate. Through teamwork and communication, we're excited to share that the CFC is making great strides.
The coalition met earlier this month and there was plenty to discuss. 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, provided by the Community Foodbank of New Jersey, is exciting for our partner pantries, but there's also a bit of a learning curve. Fortunately, the meeting is an opportunity to ask questions about the software and learn more about the process. It's also a chance to get some feedback about the program. Initial responses have been overwhelming positive.
“I hate paperwork” says one CFC member when asked about her pantry's old intake process. “This software makes life simple for me.” Along with speeding up client intake and cutting down on paperwork, the new 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 group 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 from the Food Bank are shared with CFC members twice a month. The food is picked up and delivered, and allows pantries to get healthier items to the hungry on a regular basis.
“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 client needs are being met across the county and area. By regularly communicating, CFC pantries are in a better position to serve our community.
“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 county we can all be on the same page. I look forward to these meetings. I really do. This is great group.”
We’d like to thank the CFC pantries for all that they do for the community. Together, we’re helping keep our neighbors hunger-free.
Passaic County pantries interested in working with the CFC can call (973-742-5518) or e-mail Rose Bates to learn more about the coalition.