Initiative is Collaborative Effort Between the HCPO, the Hudson County Department of Health & Human Services, and Community Refrigerators
JERSEY CITY – Last spring, as the county was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of individuals were out of work, and countless families were facing food insecurities, a grass-roots initiative started springing up throughout Hudson County – community refrigerators.
Local volunteers from Jersey City to Union City and beyond began operating community-based refrigerators where those in need could get free fresh fruits and vegetables, non-perishable food items, pantry goods, etc. Community members and other organizations began donating to the refrigerators, but the need was great and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office saw there was a role the office could play in helping this initiative.
“We have an incredibly active community outreach program in our office, but when the lockdown went into place we suddenly could no longer meet with the community face to face. However, that did not mean the need for assistance stopped – in fact, it was quite the opposite,” said Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez. “One of the areas that we saw the greatest need was with providing access to food. Many residents were suffering loss of work and cost for food was skyrocketing during the pandemic. Partnering with the local community groups on this important initiative has been incredibly humbling and rewarding. While we have been able to assist many families, we know there are many who are still in need.”
Initially, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office was able to connect several community fridges with New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger to provide a large donation of fresh produce. Following that, and ongoing since last spring, the Prosecutor’s Office has facilitated weekly food pickups for four community refrigerators in Hudson County. In 2020, with HCPO assistance, the four refrigerator sites obtained 950 boxes for a total of 26,600 meals. In the first six months of 2021, they have received over 260 boxes for a grand total of more than 41,160 meals.
Food insecurity has been a problem facing communities throughout the United States – New Jersey included – and the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the problem. According to researchers at Northwestern University, food insecurity more than doubled as a result of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, impacting approximately 23 percent of households in 2020. A separate analysis by the Brookings Institute conducted during the summer of 2020, found that 27.5 percent of households with children were food insecure, or put another way, that approximately 13.9 million children lived in a food insecure household.
“The Department of Health and Human Services is extremely grateful for the food security collaboration with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Personnel and Law Enforcement Officers during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued recovery efforts,” said Nicole Harrison- Garcia, Deputy Director of the Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services. “The HCPO has been instrumental in reaching local residents with vital food support to Hudson County families in need and extremely frail residents through their Community Refrigerator partnerships. These local refrigerators have been a lifeline to sustain local residents with food and provide empathy and kindness during this challenging period. I’m personally humbled by the efforts these individuals gave of themselves selflessly and demonstrated their true calling to service.”
The Hudson County Juneau site in Kearny is transformed on Tuesdays from a vaccination site to massive food distribution center with three tractor trailers of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as shelf-stable provisions such as rice, oatmeal, canned veggies, and juices, are delivered. Not long after, the community groups and local municipalities pick up boxes of food for weekly distribution in their communities. The operation is staffed and operated by several Hudson County offices and departments including the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Parks Department and the Department of Roads.
“Each week on Tuesday, either myself or one of our volunteers travels to Kearny to pick up food for our pantry such as rice, oatmeal, shelf-stable milk, beans, potatoes, and more,” said Olga Chechina, organizer of the Greenville Community Fridge. “We have many families in the community that wait for this day when this donation arrives. We are grateful to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and all who make this possible each week.”