West Essex YMCA helps to relieve food insecurity in local community

Photo Courtesy of Mollie Shauger

LIVINGSTON, NJ — The West Essex YMCA has long played a vital role in meeting the community’s health, wellness and child care needs. When the novel coronavirus hit the area, the Y responded by providing emergency child care to frontline workers at its Peanut Shell Early Childhood Learning Center in Livingston. The Y has also provided access to a basic need that has rapidly increased during the crisis: the need for food.

The West Essex Y has distributed approximately 82,500 pounds of food, or about 41 tons, since May. That amount equals nearly 69,000 meals served to the local community.

“During this unprecedented crisis, we are fortunate to have been able to support our community in a number of ways, including being a reliable resource for residents who are struggling with food insecurity,” said Cheryl Tuturice, district executive director of the West Essex Y.

The Y has been serving around 108 families each week, providing boxes of healthy produce, meat, dairy and other shelf-stable items to community members and local partners, including Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties, and Holy Trinity–West Orange Food Pantry. These organizations distribute to families in need through their networks.

With support from the NJ YMCA State Alliance, the Y has partnered with food distributors and suppliers across the state, including Seashore Fruit & Produce Co. and the Community FoodBank of NJ, to get boxes of fruits and vegetables and nonperishable items into the hands of local residents. 

According to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, Feeding America projects a 56-percent increase in food insecurity in New Jersey due to COVID-19. This means a total of 1.2 million residents will not have the financial means to access food for a healthy, active lifestyle. An estimated nearly four in 10 individuals who are served by food banks are relying on food assistance from charities for the first time, due to COVID-19.

The CFBNJ has provided more than 40 million nutritious meals in 2020 with the help of community partners.

“The Community FoodBank of New Jersey is grateful for the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges and all of our partners across the state, whose tireless efforts are the driving force behind our response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” CFBNJ President and CEO Carlos Rodriguez said. “Together, we form a network of vital support for our neighbors in need, whether they were struggling prior to this crisis or are finding themselves in need for the first time in their lives.”

The partnership between the West Essex Y and Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors was made even stronger by the food distribution initiative, LNHN President Stacey Rubinstein said.

“Being able to provide delicious, healthy produce and other essential perishables was simply incredible and a much-needed service for the food-insecure families we serve,” she said. “We were glad we could serve as the mechanism to reach the families but without the YMCA we wouldn’t have had access to the food items and that is everything. It is always a pleasure to work together to help others and more important than ever before as the need is truly unbelievable.”

When the coronavirus struck New Jersey, the West Essex Y and its six sister branches were forced to temporarily close. Despite a significant cut in revenue and loss of staff due to furloughs, the West Essex Y joined the pandemic response alongside other Ys in its association and across the state to provide emergency food boxes as the need quickly grew. To date, the Metro Y Association has distributed more than 26,000 boxes and 461,000 meals across six locations in Bergen, Essex, Passaic and Sussex counties, working with at least 20 community partners. 

About four volunteers and staff members help out each Thursday with distribution of food boxes to partner organizations at the West Essex Y, however the Y has lost some steady volunteers to school and work obligations.

The Y has planned another food distribution for Dec. 10. To join the distribution list or inquire about volunteer opportunities, contact Joanne Browne at the West Essex Y at jbrowne@metroymcas.org.

“Without the support of our community, staff and volunteers, we would not be able to make the impact we’ve made in a short time. We have no intention of stopping as long as our partners are able to provide the food,” Tuturice said.