- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2020

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - As vaccines raise hopes for a gradual end to the COVID-19 pandemic, a food bank in New Jersey’s richest county is helping families for whom economic hardships haven’t lessened.

With the New York skyline a few miles away, a line of cars 2 miles long crawled through East Rutherford on Tuesday to the Meadowlands YMCA, where meals have been given out for months but organizers say the need has spiked recently as COVID-19 has made a resurgence during the fall and into the holiday season.

“The reason I think it is happening is that people don’t realize how close they were to the edge until the pandemic came,” YMCA President and CEO David Kisselback said. “That’s when they realized they needed help. And to see people coming through the line at first, you can see that there’s embarrassment, but then there’s understanding because they know they can come here without being judged and that we’re going to provide food for them.”

Kisselback said the center is handing out about 200,000 meals per month, nearly triple the number from the summertime. Some people had been waiting since 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, as a major winter storm approached New Jersey.

Elizabeth Swieca said she lost her job as a pharmacist earlier this year, forcing her and her husband to support their family of four on his income.

“With two kids at home, it’s really important to have this food,” she said. “And I know many coworkers and friends who have been cut back on hours or have lost their jobs. And so we’re all able to help each other through these programs. It’s really beneficial to us.”

The YMCA has partnered with organizations such as the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and Table to Table, as well as companies including Hello Fresh and Goya Foods to provide the meals. Each box contains about 40 meals, Kisselback said.

“The harder part is that we know that there’s some people living in their cars,” he said. “You see other items in their car that’s showing that children are living in their cars with their parents. And if this is going on with the food insecurity, what else are they not getting? Are they not getting their medical or are they not getting social services that they need?”

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