Feeding Families by Partnering with Community Food Banks

May 26, 2020

At 6:00 am, the first car has already pulled up to the door of the Meadowlands YMCA. Each car joining that long conga line is waiting for one valuable food box to be dropped into its car trunk five hours later at 11 am. It’s first come first serve, and everyone there knows that demand is so great that sometimes they can run out of boxes by 11:15 am.

Every Tuesday morning, the Y starts assembling and filling the boxes so that they can begin distributing them by 11 am. Two staff members walk along the line of cars handing out tickets. The tickets coincide with the number of boxes available. When the tickets run out, so do the number of food boxes. 

Meadowlands YMCA President and CEO, David Kisselback, said that the families they see once a week are incredibly appreciative and often give them a thumbs-up through the window, or hold up signs saying “thank you.” “The heartbreaking part is when you must tell somebody, sorry, we've given out all the tickets we have for today--and you don't know what that family is going to do.”

The Meadowlands YMCA, along with their food partners, Community Food Bank of New Jersey, Table to Table, Osem, Meadowlands Racetrack, Hello Fresh and others, have provided over 125,000 meals to more than 6,000 families to date.

Although 95% of the staff have been furloughed, 10 to 12 staff members work the food donations along with 15 to 20 volunteers from local businesses. Companies and vendors have been generous in donating their time and supplies, and even provide forklifts and floor jacks to help move the pallets of food.

All involved must have their temperatures taken and answer a series of questions before being assigned to the gymnasium. The volunteers fill 500 to 600 boxes of food. Boxes may contain pork, chicken, or beef, fresh produce, pasta, ingredients to make soup, and canned vegetables. It’s often a combination of pre-packaged items or meal kits, along with bulk produce.

The generous support of local companies enables the YMCA to include more than just food--such as kits for DIY face masks, items for family projects and games, and bags of pretzels or Easter candy. Each week upwards of 150 boxes are also set aside for veterans and those who are unable to get out. Organizations from surrounding communities come to pick up the boxes to distribute to them.

The food distribution program began the first week after the government shutdown, and word has mainly spread through social media. “We don’t pass judgment on anybody that comes through, and we don’t ask questions,” said Kisselback. “We are seeing a lot of families who didn’t need help before, but have been impacted by financial hardship and unemployment.”

The Meadowlands YMCA will continue to distribute food boxes every Tuesday until further notice.