Speaker Coughlin, Wimberly & Sumter Tour CUMAC, Highlight Innovative Approach of Frontline Food Justice Organization

One in 12 New Jersey households faced food insecurity in 2020. Advocating for a stronger legislative focus to combat hunger in the state, Assembly Speaker Coughlin (D-Middlesex) has long championed cross-sector partnerships, innovations, and policies to improve food assistance.

To strengthen New Jersey’s network of anti-hunger partners, on Friday the Speaker visited the Center of United Methodist Aid to the Community (CUMAC) alongside Assembly members Benjie Wimberly and Shavonda Sumter (both D-Bergen, Passaic) to learn about the organization’s community-informed Choice Marketplace and Benefits Enrollment Center.

“Bridging the gap between organizations serving on the front lines of hunger and critical state-run food assistance programs empowers longer term stability for those needing help putting food on the table,” said Speaker Coughlin. “With its unique trauma-informed approach, CUMAC works right at the nexus of helping preserve dignity for those needing assistance while also leveraging its trusted position in the community to connect people with benefit programs like SNAP and Medicaid. It’s a model that I can see having great success in other parts of New Jersey.”

Following a tour of the facilities, CUMAC staff demonstrated the process of ordering and receiving items in the grocery-type setting of their pantry, and explained ways their coordinators connect clients with benefits programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In 2021, CUMAC served 28,465 clients through their Choice Marketplace: 16,960 adults, 6,730 children, and 4,775 seniors.

“Hunger does not discriminate, but certain communities face more barriers than others when it comes to accessing assistance,” said Wimberly, who was the lead Assembly sponsor of the Hunger-Free Campus Act enacted in 2019 to tackle college hunger. “Bringing dignity back into the picture can transform the way marginalized communities feel about getting help and that’s crucial given the diversity we have here in Paterson.”

The visit to CUMAC comes after Thursday’s Appropriations Committee meeting, in which the Assembly Democrats’ latest package of anti-hunger initiatives aimed at bolstering critical food safety net programs like SNAP were advanced.

“We must address hunger through a lens of equity,” said Sumter, who is a sponsor of legislation (A-2361) to boost SNAP outreach. “By meeting people where they are, we boost our capacity to ensure people aren’t going hungry and enroll in SNAP. As a result, we create a more definitive path to food security and greater social mobility.”

Estimates indicate that for every $1 of SNAP benefits between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity can be generated. Last year alone, SNAP infused $2.6 billion into New Jersey.

“CUMAC believes hunger is a public health issue,” said Mark Dinglasan, Executive Director of CUMAC. “With that belief in mind we have been working more upstream by creating new systems that focus on sustainable livelihoods, nutrition security – not just food security – access to benefits, and awareness around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and how they negatively affect public health. This is how we believe CUMAC will end hunger for the more than 2,000 people that come to us for help every month. We firmly believe that these ideologies are strongly aligned with Speaker Coughlin’s efforts to attack and end hunger in NJ and we were excited to host the Speaker at our facility.”

CUMAC’s mission is to fight hunger and its root causes through a holistic, trauma-informed approach that provides groceries and basic necessities to families and individuals in need.