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Food insecurity, inflation combine to make for extraordinary demand for Willing Heart Community Care Center in Newark

CBS New York logo CBS New York 7/1/2022 Lisa Rozner

NEWARK, N.J. - With inflation on the rise, a New Jersey nonprofit says it's seeing a record number of families struggling with food insecurity. 

Organizers say hundreds of people now line up for hours at their weekly grocery giveaway. 

But as CBS2's Lisa Rozner reports, they need more partners and funding to keep up with the demand.

There were prayers inside the Willing Heart Community Care Center in Newark's Central Ward for people waiting outside like Tina Dzila, of East Orange. Dzila, a mom of two, braids hair, but business is slow. 

"During COVID, I lost some customers," Dzila said. "Coming here and getting stuff for free helps a little bit." 

Every Tuesday, Willing Heart gives out grocery bags filled with healthy food like fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, water, and even meat. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. 

"I don't let anybody leave the parking lot without groceries, so sometimes, it could be 12:30, 1 o'clock," said program director Maryanna Willford. 

Nearly 250 families line up, but with rising inflation, Willford expects that number to soon climb to 400. 

She says pre-pandemic, that kind of volume would only be seen over the course of a month. 


Video: Fed to consider aggressive action amid soaring inflation (CBS News)

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The state's Department of Human Services says food stamp recipients increased by 15% in the last year. 

Pastor Dr. David Jefferson is with the Metropolitan Baptist Church, which oversees the Willing Heart Community Care Center. 

"There's no way individuals can really make it on that, and subsidies are required. But subsidies, they are not the solution. We need to provide people a means for which they can help themselves," Jefferson said. 

Complicating matters, Newark is New Jersey's third largest food desert, which means at least 30% of residents have to travel more than a mile for healthy and affordable food. 

Newark resident Maria Chabon says when groceries run out, she goes to the Walmart several towns away. 

"Things are expensive now. It's hard. You need this help," Dzila said. "You get a lot of vegetables here." 

"This is about giving people hope," Jefferson said. "We have seen so many families transformed as a result of what we do here." 

Transformed, thanks to a team of 30 volunteers, and support from partners like the local ShopRite and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

New Jersey does have legislation in place that dedicates funding to open more food stores and give grants to organizations like Metropolitan. 

For more on how to help the nonprofit, CLICK HERE. 

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