'We Tried And Tried, But The Pandemic Has Everyone Kind Of Skeptical'By Vanessa Murdock

GARFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered a food pantry that served New Jersey for a decade.

As CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reports, some people say the closure will be devastating.

A freezer that once held upwards of 5,000 meals is now empty at Meals with a Mission in Garfield.

The nonprofit made the difficult decision to end operations as of Jan. 4. Now, shelters, senior residences, food pantries and local churches will have to look elsewhere for support.

“It’s really hard, because there are a lot of people really in need for this food,” Assistant Operations Manager Deacon Ralph Sparrow told Murdock.

Before the pandemic, warmth from the stove and good cheer filled the kitchen, as volunteers prepared thousands of meals a week.

“This place was rocking and rolling most of the time,” said kitchen coordinator Jadene Chichizola.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

In March, COVID-19 quieted the kitchen, cancelled fundraisers and, perhaps most impactful of all, dried the steady stream of volunteers.

“We tried and tried, but the pandemic has everybody kind of skeptical,” Sparrow said.

“We have to move on,” said Chichizola.

Garfield Mayor Richard Rigoglioso said to help fill the void, the city supports popup produce markets.

“We’ve been supplying probably about 300 meals every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But they’re not cooked meals, understand that,” he said.

“As we move from this emergency response to the longterm coat tails of this pandemic, the loss of this food pantry on the ground is going to be devastating,” added Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Zur.

FOOD RESOURCES FOR TRI-STATE RESIDENTS

The commissioner said the county witnessed a 71% increase in food insecurity — that’s 10,000 people not knowing where they’ll get their next meal. Still, the need is growing.

Zur encourages if you have the means, develop a long lasting relationship with your local food pantry.

“Whether it is giving your canned good, your nonperishable, your perishable goods, your time, your money,” she said.

It’s all needed now more than ever. Going without could mean more organizations like Meals with a Mission close under the strain of the pandemic.

Over its decade of service, the nonprofit provided nearly 1.5 million meals to its New Jersey neighbors, and about 400 volunteers made that possible.

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Vanessa Murdock