EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — As the partial shutdown of the federal government reached 31 days Monday, officers with the Community FoodBank of New Jersey said they’re worried an already stressed food supply won’t meet the additional demand of families.
Last week, the FoodBank reported its resources were “already stretched,” as more residents began seeking food after the shutdown began three days before Christmas.
The shutdown, which stemmed from a fight over funding for a southern border wall, has resulted in about 800,000 federal employees — approximately 5,000 of them in New Jersey — being furloughed or working for pay they won’t see until a budget resolution is passed. Locally, federal employees and contractors at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township and at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May have been affected.
“Sudden loss of pay is one possible emergency that can bring someone to our community partners for assistance,” Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of the FoodBank, said Monday, “and those who struggle to make ends meet often face impossible choices, like deciding whether to pay for housing or food.”
The more than 730,000 New Jersey residents who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are also affected by the shutdown. Last week, recipients got their February benefits early, which will force many families to budget their assistance through the end of next month.
FoodBank leaders, like many they serve, are hoping President Donald Trump and Congress reach an agreement soon.
“We work with more than 1,000 community partners that help us get nutritious food to neighbors in need in their communities,” Rodriguez said, “but we can’t make up for the loss of the $80 million worth of food that SNAP provides each month to food insecure families.”
Not all food pantries are panicked at the moment. At the Coast Guard Training Facility in Cape May, about 1,000 total enlistees and civilians are either furloughed or working for delayed pay.
A surge of goodwill has transformed an on-base, closet pantry into a room with overflowing shelves and a separate storage area to hold the excess donations.
One of the pantry’s organizers, Jessica Manfre, whose husband has been in the Coast Guard for 18 years, said donations from collection points across South Jersey haven’t started to slow.
“It’s just been unbelievable,” Manfre said. “Our pantry here is going wonderfully, like, anything you could possibly need you can walk in and find it.”
So much so that the Spouses Association on base and the Chief Petty Officers Association have taken to delivering some excess goods — which include staples and nonperishable foods, toiletries, diapers and baby formula — to bases in nearby Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Delaware. They’ve even used monetary donations to help Coast Guard personnel as far away as Alaska.
Manfre doesn’t expect the energy with which the surrounding community has helped federal workers to die down. But if the shutdown continues past Feb. 1, Coast Guard retirees will miss pension payments. That, she says, would be another burden on the pantry.
And she doesn’t have high hopes the shutdown will end cleanly or amicably.
“A lot of people have experienced shutdowns before so their tone is almost like, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be fine; it’ll all work out,’” Manfre said. “I’m not OK with maybe. I want to prepare and make sure that our families here are taken care of, because I just don’t believe it’s going to be a positive thing.”