Like many other states, the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Jersey hard. By mid-September, the state had more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases, putting it in the top 10 of cases by state. The state also felt the effects of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, as its unemployment rate hit 16.6 percent in June.
Like other states, many people found themselves going to food pantries for the first time. Since the start of the pandemic, food banks across the country have seen a 50 percent increase in the number of people served, nearly one-third of whom are using a food bank for the first time.
As these food banks sought new ways to overcome volume restraints and provide services that were now in greater demand, they had to find new sources and locations. Partnering with corporations was one path, and that’s what Interfaith Food Pantry in Morris Plains, N.J., did, joining forces with GAF Roofing in Parsippany, N.J., to provide a free, outdoor farmers market, giving those in need access to fresh foods and vegetables twice a month. Through July, the market served 1800 households. But the food bank soon realized that the location was more than just a site for distribution, they would also need help from their drivers.
Centerline’s Ira Knapp (pictured above), a truck driver based in New Columbia, Pa., answered the call. A driver with Hawk Logistics, he was familiar with GAF Roofing and had experience driving a refrigerated truck and so a recommendation was made.
“They saw that I had previous experience and thought I had the proper credentials, so they recommended me,” Knapp said.
So on weeks that the food bank operates, Knapp leaves home in Pennsylvania and drives two-and-a-half hours to New Jersey on Thursday. On Friday, he drives a reefer truck to the food bank, helps put together pallets of fresh foods and vegetables and loads the truck to bring the 12,000 pounds of produce to the GAF campus for distribution the next day.
“Generally speaking, it’s pretty hard work,” Knapp said. “There aren’t a lot of hours, but because of the sun and heat – and the stuff isn’t light – it does turn into being more work than you might think.”
It’s an important job, and it’s one that keeps expanding. Centerline Drivers have also been helping out at Foodshare in Connecticut, supplying drivers to deliver much-needed food to residents, who line up for hours at Rentschler Football Field to pick up 50 pounds of food to feed their families. Many weeks, that involves 1,500 to 3,000 cars per day.
During the New Jersey events, Ira spends the day setting up for the event, unloading produce, keeping the stations stocked, jumping in where needed and breaking everything down for cleanup at the end of the day.
“It certainly is rewarding,” Knapp said. “One of the leads from the food pantry was saying that not a whole lot has changed in New Jersey yet, it’s still scary bad. It was supposed to end in September and it looks like they’re going to keep going. It’s hard to grasp the situation. They’re out of work and they didn’t expect to be out of work. The people who come through are more than grateful, and that’s all that matters.”
Knapp has a history of helping others, including a recent volunteer trip to West Virginia with his church, where he spent a week building a home for a family in need. He believes that helping others is vital.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s almost a must to get American kids overseas because a lot of times they don’t see how good they have it, and that’s kind of one of these situations, until you volunteer, sometimes you don’t see how good your life really is.”
So as long as the food bank needs him—and other Centerline drivers – he will be out there, unloading produce and helping people.
“Ira is a great example of someone who not only does great work in his community, but is also willing to step up to help other communities,” said John Trahan, Centerline director of business development.