For too many New Jersey residents, the summertime living ain’t so easy.
With inflation at a 40-year high, the state’s most financially vulnerable are finding themselves having to prioritize between buying groceries to feed their families and covering other expenses, such as gas for their vehicles or paying rent and utilities.
State residents, along with the rest of the country, are dealing with a 32.2% increase in the price of eggs, a 14.2% increase in meat, poultry and fish, and an 11.8% increase in dairy products. Although gas prices have fallen, they are still above $4 per gallon. The overall rate of inflation stands at 9.06%.
More than one-third of all state residents reported they cut back on food and groceries to meet other expenses.
“It is a double whammy,” said Laura Van Bloem, Eva’s Village senior director of development and communications. Demand for groceries is up, and the cost to fill the empty shelves is also up, she said of the nonprofit, which offers meals, recovery and assistance.
Chris Brancato, development director for the Paterson Diocese’s Catholic Charities, said summers can be challenging for individuals. He said the demand for groceries rises during the summer months, when children are not eating any meals at school, putting a heavier burden on the family budget. He said his charity is fully dependent on donations to stock the shelves of its pantries in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties.
When COVID hit, the Catholic Charities pantries saw an increase in need and went from 5,000 families visiting per month to almost 20,000, Brancato said.
There was a slight dip in the number of visitors after the pandemic shutdown ended, as things returned to normal, Brancato said, but inflation has caused the need to go back up and to keep going higher.
“It’s been particularly challenging at the Father English Food Pantry,” he said. “The needs go up when the kids are home.”
Donations are not keeping up with the increase in demand, Brancato said. Typically, donations drop off in the summer months and pick up again in the fall and around the Thanksgiving and December holidays.
Janelle Hall, executive director of United Passaic Organization, agreed that inflation has resulted in more people asking for help.
“We are experiencing high volumes,” Hall said, adding that her organization has teamed up with local food pantries in Passaic.
Hall said more and more people are coming to the food truck on Saturday mornings during its stop at Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. More than 80 people stopped by last week.
“We are giving out 100 bags of food,” Hall said of the food truck.
A refrigerator called Ujamaa Cafe, which has been holding free prepared meals by local restaurants at Mount Pilgrim since May, is also heavily used. The church has asked that the refrigerator be filled twice a week, rather than just on weekends.
Leeja Carter’s Coalition for Food and Health Equity, which stocks the refrigerator, said inflationary pressures are hurting families, vulnerable seniors, veterans and individuals with disabilities. They have to balance rent, food and transportation costs.
“It’s a very challenging time,” Carter said. “People are saying they cannot afford to eat.” The coalition, she said, has a hard time keeping up with the demand.
The Passaic Salvation Army has also seen an increase in need, with the number of families growing from 604 per week to 676, a 12% increase, said Lauren Murphy, a Clifton councilwoman who sits on the boards of the Salvation Army and St. Peter’s Haven in Clifton.
St. Peter’s, Murphy said, saw a 30.2% increase in need in the last three months.
Secaucus has had a 20% increase in those needing assistance. “We are seeing new people every week,” said Lisa Snedeker, who works in the Secaucus Social Service Department.
According to the CouponBirds website, which commissioned a study on need, 37% of New Jersey adults, or 2.5 million people, have skipped or missed meals this year.
Salaries, CouponBirds found, are not keeping pace with the rising cost of living. When New Jersey’s figures were compared across all 50 states, it fared better than most states.
West Virginia had the greatest increase, with 75% of study participants saying they are eating less this year due to unaffordable food costs. In South Dakota and Wyoming, 22% of participants said they skipped meals to save on food costs.