On the frontlines of hunger: A food bank’s endless fight to keep New Jerseyans fed

HILLSIDE — When it comes to ending hunger, the work is never done. The Community Food Bank of New Jersey distributes 47 million meals a year, but keeping up with the nearly 1 million hungry New Jerseyans every day is an endless challenge.

One in seven children in New Jersey is food insecure, which has the potential to cause physical, mental, and social damage.

“Hunger is a year-round problem, and during Thanksgiving, it’s an opportunity for us to create awareness for our neighbors who have this problem year-round,” said Carlos Rodriguez, president, and CEO of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

The food bank serves more than 800 programs statewide, distributing food to pantries, senior citizen homes, and after-school programs. Ahead of Thanksgiving, the food bank plans to distribute more than 25,000 turkeys.

“That’s what we’re looking at. How can we have a greater impact so a child does not have their development impaired, their learning abilities impaired because they just didn’t have access to food that is available but they couldn’t financially reach?” Rodriguez said.

On the front lines of the food bank’s battle with hunger is an army of volunteers. Some come for a day, but others like Daryl Walker came in as a volunteer and eventually took on a permanent role as the food bank’s chef.

“If we keep donating and you have a passion for trying to feed the hungry, the more you donate and the more people we can bring on, the longer this will last,” Walker said.

Walker, a New Brunswick native, found his calling after being on the wrong side of a prison cell. Since his release from prison in 2012, Walker joined the food bank’s team and now earns a living giving others what he never had.

“Now, I see it as a great thing to be a part of, feeding these kids that were in the same situation that I was in that don’t have food,” Walker said.