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Morristown Residents Work, Struggle to Afford Basics

New report from United Way calculates number of struggling working families, while food stores at Interfaith Food Pantry are nearly gone.

Give a hearty shout in the warehouse at and you just might hear an echo.

That is because a 13 percent increase from May through July in demand for food staples—everyday things from bread to milk, cereal to soup—has nearly stripped them of supply.

"We recently had to temporarily adjust our intake policy to accommodate all the new people," said Carolyn Lake, director of community relations and development. "On top of all this, we just completed our weekly inventory and the situation is bleak."

Interfaith Food Pantry's clean, new warehouse in their recently-opened new main offices on Executive Drive in Morris Plains is nearly bare, save a few boxes.

"The boxes you see are primarily coffee and hygiene products," Lake said. "We have almost no donated food."

The organization's dearth of donations comes on the heels on the release of a United Way of Northern New Jersey study five years in the making that shows more than a third of New Jerseyans, 34 percent, do not make enough money for the basic family necessities. Called ALICE, "Asset Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed," the study looked at families and individuals who earned above the poverty level but are still struggling considerably in one of the richest states in the country.

"Some years ago, as the executive director of the in Morristown, I spent my days getting to know many who had hit rock-bottom," said John Franklin, CEO of United Way of Northern New Jersey. "I gained great sympathy for these individuals who were homeless and destitute. The more I got to know them, the more I learned. The majority were locals, many of
whom had surprising histories of good jobs, good educations and good families. Somehow life had conspired against them."

The ALICE report, Franklin said, was started to gain a better understanding of those who live "one crisis away from falling into poverty." While the families and individuals in the study technically make more than the federal poverty level of $22,113 per family and $11,344 per single adult (a rate not updated since 1974, according to the study), they make a lot less than what is needed to manage a healthy standard of living, he said.

According to the study, 30 percent of the people in New Jersey live in households earning too little to provide basic necessities, and more than half the jobs pay less than $20 an hour, or $41,600 a year, "most of those far less," Franklin said.

In Morris County, 23 percent are below the ALICE threshold, with five percent below the poverty line, according to the study. That is relatively low compared to other counties like Cumberland (47), Cape May (43) and Essex (43).

Morristown, along with Dover and Netcong, have the most families below the ALICE threshold in the Morris County, between 41 and 75 percent. Morris Township and Morris Plains have the second lowest rate, between 11 and 20 percent. Harding Township is the only municipality in Morris County with the lowest recorded rate of families below the ALICE threshold according to the study, between 8 and 10 percent.

No matter the location, Lake said many people from the entire area continue to seek the services of Interfaith Food Pantry and other like-minded organizations. "So far this year, we have distributed nearly 400,000 pounds of food, serving almost 6,000 people," she said.

The organization has just placed a large order of food with a distributor, ensuring they will continue to be able to serve the community. However, Lake is calling on those in the community that can help to do so.

"We need companies, houses of worship, civic groups and now that the schools are getting back in session, all those kids to start doing drives again," she said. "More than a thousand different households a month are depending on us."

Donations are accepted at Interfaith Food Pantry's warehouse at 2 Executive Drive, Morris Plains, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The most current needs and more information can be found at their website.

Motown Resident September 05, 2012 at 12:14 PM
It's still amazing to me that Morristown turns businesses away when it's residents are struggling for jobs. It goes to show you that 40 Park and the Georgetown Townhouses residents who pay more in property taxes than these people make in a year are far more important to our political leaders. (Good work Jay! You made your legal fee while residents struggle for jobs, sleep well) Hopefully the voter registration forms are handed out at the interfaith food pantry. Time for a change.
Prentiss Gray September 05, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I believe the point here is our residents are struggling for "good" jobs. This one of the most expensive places in the country to live, more jobs are not the answer. We need more jobs that pay more than poverty level wages. Time to ante up for the community.

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