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These charities want your mountain of clean, Reusable grocery bags

Thursday, 13/10/2022

Amanda Hyde is overwhelmed by her oversupply of reusable grocery bags. The 32-year-old Toms River resident has groceries delivered to her home about once a week, and said she has amassed at least 40 to 50 of the reusable bags as a result.

“Every time I get a grocery order, I rant about it," she said. "It’s so annoying. I have so many.”

She has bags of bags in her car as well as her husband's vehicle, with more bags stored in a closet at home, she said.

"I'm not the type of person that would throw them out," she said. "There comes a point where this is wasteful.”

Like other shoppers who found themselves overrun with cloth and thick plastic bags since New Jersey's ban on single-use plastic and paper grocery bags went into effect in May, Hyde had no easy solution for what to do with her large accumulation.

Yet across New Jersey, charities that distribute food and supplies to needy families are desperate for reusable bag donations, particularly from e-commerce shoppers like Hyde who have an oversupply.

Demand for help from food banks surged during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic as workers lost their jobs by the thousands. To limit face-to-face interactions and protect the health of both food recipients and volunteers, food pantries created "prepacks" of meals and distributed them in single-use plastic bags, said Jen Miller, the network engagement coordinator for the Community Foodbank of New Jersey, the state's largest network of food banks.

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The plastic bags became an essential part of the food distribution process, Miller said. However, like grocery stores, food pantries must also stop distributing single-use plastic and paper bags.

While grocery stores were forced to use reusable bags as of May 4, state officials gave food banks a six-month extension to comply as well as 500,000 reusable bags to ease the transition.

At the time, Assemblyman Craig Coughlin said residents who were affected by the impacts of inflation, job market disruptions and supply chain shortages and who needed food assistance would be further harmed without an extension given to food banks.

"We simply can’t leave our food insecure families behind and this bill thoughtfully ensures that we don’t," Coughlin said in a statement earlier this year.

Food pantries have until Nov. 4 to transition to reusable bags, Miller said.

"We want to make sure that people are getting the help they need," she said "We want to be able to provide the help in… clean, usable, sanitized bags."

To help, Community Foodbank of New Jersey established a webpage where residents in northern and southern New Jersey can donate clean, like-new reusable bags at one of nearly 300 food pantries and distribution centers.

The Fulfill Food Bank, which assists food banks and soup kitchens throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties, is also accepting clean, reusable bags in good condition, said Kelly Watts, vice president of development and external relations

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The Food Bank of South Jersey is also seeking new reusable bags at locations across Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties.

"We know that… e-commerce customers are getting a plethora of bags," said Miller. "The great news is they (the bags) are probably only used once or twice… Customers can take their bags, they can look up online a pantry near them and deliver clean bags and… sanitized bags to (distribution) partners."

As Thanksgiving approaches, a time of year where food charities are especially busy, the reusable bags will become even more valuable to charities, she said.

"You hear that people have hundreds of bags. Well, there are good places to put them," Miller said. 


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