The state is adding another $10 million to a program that pays struggling restaurants to prepare meals for some of New Jersey’s neediest residents, the Murphy administration announced Nov. 5.
These new funds will bring the total state contribution to the Sustain and Serve program to nearly $45 million. Under the program, nonprofit organizations buy meals from area restaurants and distribute them to residents facing hunger and food shortages.
“Sustain & Serve offers a creative approach to supporting both restaurants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as those who struggle with food insecurity,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement the day after he narrowly won reelection.
The effort began after the imposition of restrictions that prohibited indoor dining between March and June last year and then limited restaurants to outdoor dining through September. Capacity limits remained in place for the next year. Sustain and Serve was modeled after a much narrower program that exclusively served Newark.
“Most restaurants aren’t chain restaurants with a corporate parent able to make up for losses. These are single-location restaurants where a restaurateur has invested not just their heart and soul, but also their savings,” the governor said at a news conference outside the New Brunswick’s Tavern on George, which is taking part in the program through the local nonprofit 411.
Sustain and Serve is run by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which according to Murphy has administered $700 million in COVID-19 relief for businesses, including grants, low-interest loans and loan guarantees meant to offset risks of investments to start-ups.
Tim Sullivan, who heads the NJEDA, estimates that $700 million has helped roughly 90,000 separate venues over the past 18 months of COVID-19 business closures.
State officials estimate the NJEDA paid out more than $34 million to 31 non-profits around the state since February 2021, which in turn have bought 2 million meals from over 400 restaurants, with another 1.5 million meals in the pipeline.
The program serves the purpose of helping “restaurants who need business and people who need food,” Sullivan said.
While the most severe COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, Sullivan added, labor shortages, and a widespread shift to work-from-home have reduced the levels of weekday, business-hour foot traffic that typically needed to sustain an eatery, especially beyond the weekends.
This latest round – financed from the $6.4 billion the state received under the American Rescue Plan – is expected to add on another 1 million meals, bringing a total of 4.5 million that’ll have been bought from restaurants under the program.
Murphy is able to use tranches of up to $10 million in ARP funds without need to go to the state Legislature for approval.