According to Feeding America reports, every day in South Jersey more than 200,000 people are unsure as to when and how they will get the next meal. The three JFCS Betsy and Peter Fischer Food Pantries in Camden and Burlington County alone served 5,600 last year, and are expected to serve over 7,000 this year. The increase in need of nearly 25% is an indisputable example of just how prevalent and pervasive the need for food actually is. Of those JFCS pantry clients, 35% are children who, after eating at school, may come home to an empty plate and 12% are seniors that are making the difficult choice of whether to eat or pay for medicine.
While hunger is a tremendous struggle for an individual at any age, children and seniors are at a distinct disadvantage for many reasons – they may be unable to work, not able to drive, cannot easily access / purchase groceries on their own, and have limited access to resources. These hurdles, combined with an overall heightened reliance on others to make sure they get enough to eat, can make food-insecurity a seemingly insurmountable problem.
Katherine* is a pantry client who recently suffered an injury to her back, has heart problems, and is relegated to a wheelchair for mobility. At age 71, she has mounting medical bills, and with no family nearby, and relies on the kindness of others and food from the food pantries to meet nutritional needs. She admits, it’s not always easy to ask for help, but says she realizes what will happen if she doesn’t eat enough. “Many times, I have to use my money just to make the bill collectors happy – and I don’t have much left for food,” she says. “It’s scary that at my age, after working most of my life, that buying food to survive is such a struggle. With my health conditions, I have to eat, or I will begin to feel physically ill.”
Katherine is not alone. Studies show that seniors may experience weakness, poor balance, lack of energy and more pronounced symptoms of diseases such as diabetes, dementia, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and vision loss, all due to the lower intakes of nutrients.
The damages caused to the sensitive, immature body systems of young people are equally apparent. Hunger has been observed to cause depression, anxiety and withdrawal, all of which are obstructions to a child trying to focus on education. Hunger can also cause behavioral problems. In a classroom setting, a single child’s behavior can affect the rest of the students, the teacher’s attention and the overall learning atmosphere. In this case, hunger not only disturbs the affected child’s learning, but the learning of others as well.
Young people in a laboratory study that involved healthy, well-nourished school-aged children found a negative effect of morning fasting on cognitive performance. A test of the speed and accuracy of response on problem-solving tasks given to children who did or did not eat breakfast found that skipping breakfast had an adverse influence on their performance on the tests. While the children studied were participating in an isolated laboratory study, many children who truly struggle each day to have enough food experience these mornings of hunger daily. For many children, it is their everyday reality.
Coming up in September, just in time for the school year and to get a head start on the cold winter months to come, JFCS will be hosting volunteer opportunities to help fortify our pantries and also bring meals to seniors and those who are homebound. We urge you to come and offer your support for the Rosh Hashanah Community Cooking Project on September 3 and 10, or the Community Food Sort Sponsored by WCRE, on September 27th – which includes a special sukkah decorating activity for children and families.
Together we can make sure that not one person in any of our neighborhoods has to worry where their next meal will come from. Celebrity Chef Mario Batali and New Jersey native once said, “Unlike curing cancer or heart disease, we already know how to beat hunger: food.”
We hope you’ll be in our corner as we continue to fight to nourish our neighbors in need. To find out more about information about our food pantries, meal delivery services, or to volunteer to help those who are food -insecure, please call 856-424-1333, xt. 1180.