Rev. Dr. James A. Dunkins, who serves as senior pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Vineland, knows that the county his church lies in is one of the poorest in New Jersey. He also knows that hunger in his community is a common problem.
Along with giving worshipers an uplifting message, Shiloh is known for its Beyond the Walls food pantry which takes donations and gives food to those who need it.
“Our main program is our food pantry,” he said. “People can come in and they put down their information and we give them nutritious food and we give them help and anything else we can reach out and do for them.”
Shiloh Baptist Church is one of several places in the Garden State filling in the gap when it comes to hunger. The New Jersey Department of Human Services put a special focus on combating hunger in New Jersey by connecting families to the State’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or NJ SNAP, which can help working families and individuals with lower incomes afford groceries.
According to officials, nearly 900,000 New Jersey residents are food insecure, meaning they lack regular access to enough affordable food including more than 260,000 children and 200,000 older residents.
“For New Jersey’s children to thrive, to learn in school today, and to have a chance at the best possible tomorrow, they need to know that they have a reliable source of food and nutrition,” said Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. “No child should go hungry. No child should face constant anxiety and worry about where their next meal is coming from.”
As part of the effort, Gov. Phil Murphy declared this week NJ SNAP Awareness Week to encourage residents struggling with hunger or food insecurity to learn more about SNAP. Nearly 700,000 state residents rely on NJ SNAP for help buying groceries. About 6,000 grocers, community markets, bodegas, farmer’s markets and other food retailers in New Jersey participate in NJ SNAP, generating approximately $1 billion annually in revenue.
A proposed rule by the Trump Administration threatens 68,000 NJ SNAP benefits.
“In New Jersey, we want to lift up individuals and families who are having difficulty making ends meet so that they can thrive in their communities,” said Murphy. “The Trump Administration’s policies do the opposite by trying to cut SNAP benefits that are critical to many New Jerseyans.”
NJ Human Services spent the week working with county boards of social services, community food pantries and food banks, grocers, the faith community, and community organizations to get the word out about how NJ SNAP can help fight hunger.
Shiloh Baptist Church hosted a food drive to make people aware of SNAP Awareness Week. Dunkins said SNAP is essential to the community members who need it.
“NJ SNAP can give people the option of getting nutritious food that they can afford, which will also improve their quality of life,” he said.