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Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Cape May County is Going Hungry 

A file photo of Crest Memorial School students who donated to a local food bank.

By Herald Staff

In September, the Biden Administration announced a commitment of $8 billion in private and public funding aimed at ending food hunger and reducing diet related diseases by 2030. A lofty and ambitious goal. It brings to mind past commitments to end poverty or to declare a war on drugs. 

We could all rejoice if hunger and food insecurity were eliminated by 2030, but we cannot allow federal goals and pronouncements to blind us to the simple human obligation to do what we can to reduce the food insecurity of our neighbors now. 

These are difficult times for those caught without the resources to handle spiking inflation, rising rents and out of control food prices. Some evidence calls for our attention. 

The Food Bank of South Jersey is, by their own report, dealing with twice the number of individuals that they served in pre-pandemic 2019. Food banks are struggling to accommodate rising need as holidays place added demands on family budgets.

State data shows that Cape May County is second only to Atlantic County in the percentage of all citizens who experience food insecurity.

The sixteen operating school districts in the county show yet another face of food insecurity among too many of our county neighbors. In many of those districts one-third to three-quarters of the enrolled students qualify for the free lunch program. In those numbers we are not even counting the students who are eligible for reduced lunch. For many of the students the free lunch is a day’s major meal. 

At about the same time as the Washington conference, Governor Phil Murphy signed new legislation in the Garden State that would allow more students to qualify for the free lunch program. He shifted the threshold for family annual income from no higher than 185% of the federal poverty level to 200%. The new guidelines will be in place for the 2023-2024 school year.

The reality of food insecurity in Cape May County is often hidden from our eyes. We all now join in a chorus of gripes at the seemingly unending increases in the cost of food and, even with those prices, at the inexplicable shortages in local markets. One week cream is unavailable and the next a simple chuck roast is priced as a filet was not long ago.

Yet many of us can still buy what we need. We complain loudly, but we make tradeoffs that cause us little real difficulty. 

For others the tradeoffs are harder. The very real prospect of not having sufficient food is all too real. State data from the New Jersey Department of Health shows Cape May County is second only to Atlantic County in the percentage of all citizens who experience food insecurity.

For all of us, this might be a call to do what we can. Support local food banks. Respond to food drives with substantial offerings. Holidays, especially Christmas, places added demands on those who seek an elevated food experience for their children and families even if constrained by meager resources. 

Helping – at all times – is important. But doing so now may be the best way to honor the true meaning of the holiday’s Christian, rather than material, roots.

From the Bible: (Christ said) The poor you will always have with you.  Matthew 26:11

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