In New Jersey, not everyone has equal access to fresh food due to systemic barriers such as 1) geographic location, 2) limited access to transportation options, 3) a minimal number of stores and 4) an overall lack of access to nutritious and affordable foods. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture figure reported in the 2018 NJTV news segment, Jersey is the Garden State, so Why are There Food Deserts?, 298,000 New Jersey residents live in areas with limited access to a grocery store. These areas are referred to as food deserts.
Plainfield residents experience some of the challenges food deserts and lack of access to transportation services present. However, the City of Plainfield and various departments within its government are collaborating with community partners and taking a proactive approach to reduce residents’ burdens around accessing transportation and obtaining fresh food.
As an example, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ), one of three SNAP-Ed Program partners in the state, offers cooking demonstrations at grocery stores, schools and community sites to teach residents to make meals with healthier food choices within their budgets. In addition, CFBNJ collaborates with the Plainfield School District’s Family Success Center to provide eligible students with food for the weekend through the Family Pack Program. The program began because a large portion of Plainfield’s student population is eligible for the National School Lunch Program, which means the students are provided nutritious meals while in school, but might face food scarcity over the weekend. Six schools in Plainfield take part in the Family Pack Program: Cedarbrook, Emerson, Evergreen and Stillman elementary schools, Hubbard Middle School and the Washington Community School. Our coalition is working to increase the number of participating schools, which requires addressing issues around transporting goods and identifying volunteers to deliver the Family Packs on Fridays.
The Plainfield Board of Education participates in the Summer Food Service Program to serve free meals to eligible children. In addition, the Plainfield Action Services municipal agency supports residents through an array of programs, including an emergency Food Pantry. Five food distribution sites around the city also provide fresh food on an as-needed basis.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, together with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, funds the Union County Senior Farmers’ Market Voucher Program. This program provides market vouchers of up to $25.00 to income-eligible seniors who live in Union County. The Plainfield Senior Center and Plainfield Tower West have partnered in this work, expanding our efforts to make fresh foods more accessible to seniors. In addition, the City of Plainfield is working to establish a community garden.
Community partnerships are key to promoting equity and connecting residents of all ages with the services they need to live healthier. We will continue working collaboratively to make Plainfield more food secure and equitable for everyone. Collaboration Matters!