By Robin Rieger
CAMDEN, NJ (CBS) – A monthly food distribution by the Food Bank of South Jersey’s Hope Mobile to registered families of the Cooper’s Poynt School in North Camden is the closest many of those in line say they will get to a supermarket-like setting.
“To have it here in the school makes it accessible for people who don’t have a car, like myself,” said Niikya DeJesus Ali.
She says the Pathmark across town in South Camden, near a Save-A-Lot and Family Dollar store, is out of reach for her—physically and financially—while the healthy fruits, vegetables and meats from the food bank are free.
“This helps make ends meet,” said DeJesus Ali.
The USDA has labeled Camden one of 134 “food deserts” in NJ. Eighty-three are in Mercer County and the counties south of Mercer.
The USDA website says a “food desert” is a low income census tract where a substantial number of the area’s residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.
“When the Hope Mobile distributes over 1.8 million pounds of food a year, you know there is a need out there,” said Lydia Cipriani, Philanthropy Director of the Food Bank of South Jersey’s.
It makes too many, according to the food bank’s Preston Beckley, turn to alternatives found in corner stores or fast food.
“It’s much easier to buy a soda and chips,” said Beckley. “It’s right there, it’s accessible.”
“It’s time for a change,” said DeJesus Ali.
She and other Camden residents want more stores to be accessible and affordable.
“I would preferably like ACME, would like a Shoprite, maybe around in this area,” said Latrice Bennett, a mother of six.
But it’s a tough sell, according to Cipriani.
“These people are not the ideal demographic population to attract high-end grocery stores, and yet they need to be. We need to have grocery stores there,” said Cipriani.
She said the Food Bank of South Jersey will continue to seek federal and state funds to feed people and try to close the gap.
A company spokesperson for Pathmark says that the store is committed to serving fresh and local fruits and vegetables to Camden and its surrounding communities.