Food supplies at Catholic Charities’ food pantries dwindle over the summer in this file photo.

Food supplies at Catholic Charities’ food pantries dwindle over the summer in this file photo.

Compiled from reports

The New Jersey Catholic Conference – the public policy arm of the Catholic Bishops of New Jersey – participated in a Nov. 29 news conference in Trenton to endorse 13 bills aimed at reducing hunger and food waste in New Jersey.

Participating in the conference were James King, NJCC Office of Social Concerns director; Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19); Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11), chairwoman of the state Assembly Human Service Committee, and Hunger Free New Jersey (formerly the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition.)

Coughlin, who has made hunger a top priority, said the legislation could curb hunger on college campuses, connect people with food assistance, raise awareness of hunger in New Jersey, reduce food waste and provide more healthy shopping options for people living in “food deserts” – urban areas in which it is difficult for residents to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.

“I thank Speaker Coughlin for his leadership in reducing food waste and ending hunger in New Jersey,” King said during the news conference. “The plight of the poor has been and remains a priority for the Catholic Church in New Jersey. Every day, dioceses and Catholic Charities agencies in New Jersey see and share the struggles of these families trying to live in dignity and provide for their children and themselves.”

Advocates consider A4702, “Hunger-Free Campus Act,” the most significant of the 13 bills. This legislation would appropriate $1 million for a grant program to address hunger among students enrolled in New Jersey’s public colleges and universities. The bill would help more college students enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and allow them to use their benefits to buy food at campus stores. It would also help colleges establish food pantries, and develop a “Swipe Out Hunger” student meal credit sharing program, or designate a certain amount of funds for free meal vouchers.

King recounted a conversation he had with a father of two young children while helping distribute food to the needy just prior to Thanksgiving.

“He shared with me that he is working multiple jobs to provide for his family. Despite his efforts, the family at times does not have enough to eat,” King recalled. “He said, ‘You cannot know how difficult it is when your children look at you and say they are hungry, and there is no food in the house. It is like a small part of me dies.’”

“The Catholic bishops and Catholic Charities agencies commend Speaker Coughlin for giving the plight of the hungry priority,” King continued. “We fully endorse the anti-hunger legislation and encourage members from both parties to work together to ensure these bills become law.”

Immediately following the news conference, the Assembly Human Services Committee approved all 13 bills. The full Assembly is expected to vote on the legislative package Dec. 17.