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For those experiencing food insecurity, the COVID-19 vaccine will only mark the beginning of a long road back as many families have been hit hard by unemployment at the Jersey shore.  

That was the warning from Kim Guadagno, president & CEO of the Fulfill food bank in Neptune, who discussed the hardships of Monmouth and Ocean County families at the New Jersey Business Coalition’s online Town Hall on Jan. 11.   

“In 2008 it took at least four years to get out of the recession,” she said. “After Sandy in 2012 some would argue, here at the Jersey shore, we’re still suffering the impacts of Sandy and I think you’re going to see the same kind of long-term need as a result.”  

With unemployment in Monmouth and Ocean counties nearly three times higher than pre-pandemic levels, Guadagno said she’s seeing that need firsthand. Fulfill now has a 40% increase in need with 3.2 million more meals given out in the last 10 months than in the year before.  

“Last week I got a phone call from the Long Branch School District; an 8-year-old in a virtual learning class had broken down in tears with her teacher saying that she was starving to death in front of her whole class,” she said. “Her mother had lost her job in the restaurant business and they literally had not been to the grocery store in 10 months.”  

This is the “grim reality” for Monmouth County where, Guadagno said, three out of every 10 workers in the hospitality industry live and where nearly half of them are still out of work.   

“If you had to ask me what I need right now, I would say I need a job. I need lots of jobs and I need a sustained pathway to get people those jobs,” she said.  

The New Jersey Business Coalition’s “State of New Jersey Business” online town hall provided an opportunity for business owners and coalition members to discuss the current and future needs of the business community. More than 150 people attended the virtual event, including a dozen state legislators and administration officials who were also on the call.   

For more, listen to Kim Guadagno’s statement or the full town hall event.