Although what economists termed “The Great Recession” reportedly ended in June 2009, thousands of New Jerseyans continue to feel the aftershocks of the nation’s and, in fact, the world’s financial downward spiral. Recent research found that the Garden State experienced its highest surge in residents living below the poverty level in nearly a decade this same year in which experts say the economy began to rebound. With 9.4 percent of New Jersey’s population, or almost 800,000 residents, living below the poverty line, the number of households suffering food shortages has spiked to double digits in recent years, rising from 8 percent in 2004–06 to 12 percent in 2007–09.
While the need to fight hunger across New Jersey became particularly acute in light of the tumbling economy, one leading New Jersey company has been long devoted to the fight against hunger. In 1999, Wakefern Food Corp. created the ShopRite Partners In Caring program, a year-round, hunger-fighting initiative. Since 2002, the ShopRite Partners In Caring Fund at the Community Foundation has supported hunger-fighting efforts in New Jersey and across the Northeast. To date, the ShopRite Partners In Caring fund has provided more than $12 million through CFNJ to food banks in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland to aid those in need. In New Jersey, the Fund provides annual support for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, The Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, the Food Bank of South Jersey, Mercer Street Friends and Northwest New Jersey Community Action Program, Inc. (“NORWESCAP”).
A Partnership to Help the Hungry: CFNJ and ShopRite
“ShopRite Partners in Caring is a unique program addressing hunger needs that has created lasting, positive change for more New Jerseyans than is possible to count,” said Hans Dekker, CFNJ President. “ShopRite truly continues to be a bellwether in a fight we hope will end, sooner rather than later, but until then, requires the goodwill and generosity the company tirelessly commits to the hungry in our state. CFNJ is committed to achieving the best possible outcomes for our funds’ charitable giving and ShopRite makes certain that they do so in a way that deeply impacts the needy in our communities.”
Karen Meleta, Vice President at Wakefern Food Corp., the retailer-owned cooperative under which ShopRite supermarkets operate, explained how the program emerged and why CFNJ was selected as a collaborator to ensure its success. “ShopRite Partners In Caring has donated more than $24 million to combat hunger since 1999. When the program began, our focus was to raise awareness for hunger-fighting charities, but then an interesting phenomenon happened — people started sending us money! We didn’t have a foundation or a 501(c)(3), but people wanted to contribute to the cause. When we met with CFNJ and learned how it works, and then considered the alternative of starting our own foundation, we realized that CFNJ would be a great choice. The fact that their team was readily available to help was very compelling. CFNJ is an incredible resource that was there just when we needed it, and it continues to provide the kind of counsel and leadership we’ve come to rely on.”
One of the unique features of the ShopRite Partners In Caring program is the creative and enthusiastic support it receives from ShopRite employees, customers, and partners. Every September, during Hunger Action Month, associates in all of the Shoprite stores raise funds and build displays that bring attention to the hunger issue. Promotions include local dignitaries volunteering to bag groceries. Two associates from each of the forty stores that raise the most awareness and dollars are elected by their peers to appear on a Cheerios box cover. ShopRite also launched an “Expressions of Hunger” video contest on YouTube for videos about hunger created by ShopRite customers. “The winning entries include a young rapper whose entry speaks about the impact that each individual can have on hunger, a young lady who composed a song that she sang and played on her guitar and a group of people from a soup kitchen who created a video depicting the reality of feeling hungry,” said Christine Magyarits, Manager of Community Relations of Wakefern Foods Corporation. The winners of the video contest were also depicted on the back of a box of Cheerios.
Dollars Doing Good: The Insiders’ Perspective
“I hate to think about how we’d do it without the support of ShopRite Partners In Caring.”
Susan Kelly has witnessed a shift in who relies on the resources of The Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties where she serves as Executive Director. Increasingly, middle-class individuals who once donated dollars to the organization now depend on its help to feed their families. ShopRite provides approximately $180,000 each year to the non-profit, a contribution that enables it to distribute about 7 million pounds of food to 128 organizations serving over 125,000 people in the two counties. In addition, the food bank receives contributions from four trusts established at CFNJ. “About 80 percent of our food is doorstep delivery and the funds help to defray the cost of distribution,” Kelly said. “This program is really significant. Typically, you see a program end after a couple of years in the community, but ShopRite Partners In Caring has been providing funds and support for more than 12 years.”
Kathleen DiChiara, Executive Director of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, agreed. “There’s no other program like this in New Jersey; it’s one of the finer programs of its kind in the country.” Her organization helps to ensure soup kitchens, pantries and shelters feed people with low-incomes. It provides resources for over 1,500 partner agencies and distributes more than 37 million pounds of food in 18 counties, making certain almost 1 million residents are fed.
Quaker-affiliated Mercer Street Friends serves more than 20,000 people a year from seven locations and 15 program sites, continuing a tradition first started in 1958. “ShopRite Partners In Caring is a lifeline for many smaller food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, particularly those that are faith-based,” said Director Phyllis Stoolmacher. The funds that the food bank receives annually through the initiative not only enables it to provide services for individuals and families but, as Stoolmacher adds, “relieves a psychological burden and addresses the hunger need. It really makes a difference, especially at a time when we see such an upsurge [in need].” She recognizes words alone cannot express her gratitude for ShopRite’s commitment to address this persistent challenge.
Food Banks and Meal Programs Supported by ShopRite Partners In Caring
Center for Food Action
Community FoodBank of New Jersey
Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center
Food Bank Network of Somerset County
FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties
Food Bank of South Jersey
Franklin Township Food Bank
Human Needs Food Pantry
Interfaith Food Pantry
Meals on Wheels of Trenton
Mercer Street Friends Food Bank
NORWESCAP Food Bank
Passaic County Nutrition
Phillipsburg Area Meals on Wheels
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church / Toni’s Kitchen
Table to Table
Trenton Area Soup Kitchen