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Hope Mobile Takes the Food Bank on the Road

The mobile food pantry made a stop at St. Paul's Wednesday.

Cathy Wise was doing fine until she ended up on the unemployment line after being laid off from her job at the Sony plant in Pitman last year, and soon found it difficult to make ends meet.

She made the drive up to West Deptford from Mullica Hill, as she does regularly, for the arrival of the Food Bank of South Jersey’s Hope Mobile Wednesday, a tractor-trailer that hauls thousands of pounds of produce around Gloucester, Camden, Salem and Burlington counties as part of a mobile food pantry.

Wise said getting food from the Food Bank is essential, as it helps take the pressure off her when it comes time to pay her other expenses, from utilities to rent.

"The unemployment just isn't enough," she said. "I've got to have a roof over my head."

This Hope Mobile stop came with some extra help, in the form of state Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher, Assembly representatives John Burzichelli and Celeste Riley, and West Deptford Mayor Anna Docimo, who came out to see the program’s impact firsthand and volunteer some time on the line.

"They're seeing the new face of hunger," said Joe Njoroge, the Food Bank of South Jersey’s chief operating officer.

From seniors to young families, there were few groups not represented among the line of close to 100 people that had formed before 9 a.m. at the jammed parking lot at .

Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher said he was there to see firsthand what kind of difference the Food Bank makes.

"People have fallen on hard times, and this means so much to them," Fisher said.

It’s a growing need, as well, Njoroge said–the Food Bank of South Jersey has more than doubled the amount of food they distribute, from 4.6 million pounds in 2008 to an estimated 12 million pounds this year.

It’s not just in what might be thought of as poor areas any more; Njoroge said the Food Bank helps 175,000 people across the spectrum, from inner-city Camden to the suburbs.

"There's hunger in America in the places you least expect to find it," Burzichelli said.

To help that need, the Food Bank of South Jersey has been able to add fresh produce–much of what was distributed at St. Paul’s–with funding from the State Food Purchasing Program, which allows organizations like the Food Bank to buy produce at lower rates, with additional donations from the farming community.

“Farmers are incredibly generous,” Fisher said.

It’s even more important, in light of growing food deserts–places where it’s hard to find healthy, affordable food, which are becoming more common in both urban and rural areas.

“Their access to fresh produce is very limited,” Riley said.

As the legislators took their spots along the distribution line, handing out everything from sweet corn to peaches to eggs, Njoroge praised the continuing support from government in helping the Food Bank to meet the local need.

"They see the impact their work has," he said.

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