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Tri-State Hunger: Cars Line Up Before Dawn For Food From Meadowlands YMCA

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - As the coronavirus crisis wreaks havoc on our communities, more and more people are going hungry.

In New Jersey, the number of people that are food insecure is alarming, and as CBS2's Kiran Dhillon reports, even groups that are helping those in need are now struggling.

Before the sun had even risen, hundreds of vehicles lined up for free food in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

"It makes me feel, at least I have food and I'm able to survive," said Hackensack resident Carmelo Amarento.

"Every week we do this, wait three or four hours at 6 a.m. sometimes. But it's worth it," one woman said.

The food drive, hosted by the Meadowlands YMCA, has taken place every week since late March. In total, 840,000 meals have been distributed to nearly 50,000 families.

Volunteers from American Dream helped load and distribute boxes of food and well wishes.


"Different backgrounds of people that are coming through. Everybody is susceptible to being in a food line and that's the scary part," said David Kisselback, president and CEO of Meadowlands YMCA.

"Now that it's the holidays, it is probably more important than ever, and the lines, again, are longer than ever," he added.

The group says as the pandemic has progressed, the need for food has grown. Maybe not surprising, since a recent report has found New Jersey is projected to see a 56% increase in residents who are food insecure by the end of the year due to COVID, resulting in about 1.2 million residents who are hungry. Of those, 400,000 are children.

Experts say the rise comes as many families need help for the first time.

"All members of the family lost their income or part of their income. What didn't change is the expenses," said Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Experts add the hunger crisis will have long term effects, especially on children.

"Food is the cornerstone of success. And for a child, especially a young child, it really plays a factor on how they, how they will develop," Rodriguez said.

To help with food insecurity, the governor's office says it directed $20 million dollars of CARES act funding to local food banks.  An additional $942 million in further federal funding was also made available for food assistance programs.

But for some groups, more help is needed.

"What would happen to all those families if we go away and we're not distributing this food anymore? They have nowhere else to go," Kisselback said.

The Meadowlands YMCA says if it doesn't receive more government support or individual donations, this weekly food drive that so many depend on may have to end.

The Meadowlands YMCA says the program will continue every week as long as resources are available. Every Tuesday, there's two giveaways: One at 9:30 in the morning, another at 5 p.m. You don't have to sign up in advance or even have an ID to receive access to the free food. Just show up.


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