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WBGO partners with MENDNJ to help battle Food Insecurity in Essex County

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MENDNJ (Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity) is a hunger relief network in Essex County

As part of Hunger Action Month, WBGO is partnering with MENDNJ to make a difference and address food insecurity on our community.

MEND supports and strengthens a network of 22 food pantries: 11 pantries are in Newark and 11 are in Bloomfield, East Orange, Irvington, Maplewood, Montclair, Orange, South Orange and West Orange. MEND provides fresh and healthy food, funding, volunteers, and a collaborative forum for member pantries to share ideas and resources, all with the mission of alleviating hunger, addressing the root causes of food insecurity, and improving the health and well-being of the community.

During the "Feeling Good" Fall Fund Drive when listeners contribute to support the music they love on WBGO, they'll have the opportunity to give an additional $5 or more to benefit MEND New Jersey.

MEND operates a warehouse in Orange, New Jersey nicknamed the "Fresh Food Hub" which it uses for increased health food sourcing, storage and distribution for the pantries and community partners. The Hub was funded by an Impact 100 Essex grant award in 2020 and has made it possible for MEND to work toward transforming the traditional food pantry model by providing more culturally relevant, high quality and desired nutritious foods to pantry patrons.

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MENDNJ Executive Director Robin Peacock chats via Zoom with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle

WBGO's Doug Doyle spoke with MENDNJ Executive Director Robin Peacock about the increased need for help during this difficult times. Peacock says the coronavirus pandemic has really created all kinds of problems for food pantries and families in need.

"Before COVID-19 we were operating largely remotely and we had been working toward creating a space to space to support the food pantries in whatever ways they needed, primarily that was with fresh food requests. We has secured some funding in January of 2020 with a plan to have a two-year implementation of getting the space. When COVID hit the pantries were so inundated with requests for food that we realized we just had to accelerate everything we were doing. We basically created this fresh-food hub to be a bulk-sourcing of fresh food and help with the supply chain challenges that all the pantries were facing."

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MEND workers helping to get fresh food to area pantries

Peacock says his organization faces other challenges during the pandemic.

"Most of the pantries that are part of MEND are fully volunteer run and largely run by seniors who are retired. While demand was increasing, the supply chain was disrupted and they also lost a lot of volunteer support that they had built in. So we had to really get creative in terms of utilizing volunteers from their homes to pack bags of food, to work with local businesses that had some leads on items that were hard to source, even non-perishables which typically would comes from grocery stores or community food banks."

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Kings Food Markets recently renewed its sponsorship of the "Green Bean Bus" help increase fresh and healthy food access for all. Robin Peacock accepts a check for MEND.

Peacock, who remembers growing up in a family that faced food insecurity, expressed gratitude and excitement about the new partnership with WBGO to help raise funds for the organization.

"I'm sure this will come as a shock to no one, but the number of people visited the pantries has basically quadrupled since COVID hit. Not only are we adding pantries to the network but their needs are growing. So the opportunity to partner on something like this is fantastic for us. It helps us get our name out there a little bit more and let people know the work that the pantries are doing. It obviously helps get more needed fresh and healthy food to everyone who is coming to the pantries."

Why did Peacock join MENDNJ?

"I was a tax lawyer in a past life. Then I got into some volunteering. In the volunteer work I did, I really got to learn the Greater Essex community and this opportunity arose about five years ago. I started out as a grant writer. As I was talking to the pantry managers and sort of learning the work they do everyday that's so selfless, I thought what better way to use my background in writing and advocacy to tell their story and really make people aware. To be honest, the pantries don't think anything they're doing is so amazing, but if you spend ten minutes with a pantry manager you'll be like what can I do? How can I help support this work? That for me has been the biggest motivator."

You can see the entire interview with Robin Peacock at https://fb.watch/81Hff1dkye/.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.