The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is rolling out a $2 million program that would effectively pay restaurants struggling from the pandemic to prepare meals for thousands of needy residents across the state.
Known as the Sustain and Serve NJ Program, the new form of state aid entails grants of at least $100,000 that would go toward nonprofit organizations to bulk purchase meals from local restaurants and provide them to low-income residents.
Applicants have to show that they have experience with prior bulk purchases of at least 3,000 meals, valued at $50,000 or more, from New Jersey-based restaurants since the pandemic hit the state on March 9. Under the program, meals cannot be resold.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on all of our lives, but restaurant owners and their employees have been hit particularly hard,” Tim Sullivan, the agency’s chief executive officer, said in a Friday statement.
Restaurants were ordered to shut their doors for sit-down dining between March and June, at which point they could offer outdoor dining. Many towns closed down streets and relaxed local ordinances around eateries expanding their footprint onto the sidewalk.
But as the prospect of colder weather loomed on the horizon which could render those outdoor dining arrangements useless, Gov. Phil Murphy allowed restaurants beginning on Labor Day weekend to offer indoor dining at 25% capacity.
The state is offering $60 million in business relief grants, with a tranche of that going toward restaurants, after 22,000 businesses applied for a previous round of $70 million in state aid.
“Sustain and Serve NJ is an innovative solution that will provide much-needed relief to our restaurant sector while also providing free meals to New Jersey residents,” Sullivan added. “This is crucial to ensuring New Jersey’s communities and economy withstand the pandemic and are in a strong position to recover.”
As the state began to ride a second wave of outbreaks, with new daily cases and hospitalizations not seen in months, Murphy signed an order prohibiting bar seating and ordering indoor dining to stop at 10 p.m.
He signed another order Nov. 12 that would let towns and cities enact an 8 p.m. curfew on restaurants and other non-essential businesses.
In Newark, where the positivity rate has soared to 19%, Mayor Ras Baraka announced this week that residents and businesses in three of the zip codes hardest hit by the virus face a 9 p.m. weekday curfew and 10 p.m. weekend curfew.
A similar program, known as Newark Working Kitchens, was rolled out this year in the state’s largest city, and has bought food from 24 eateries to help them stay afloat.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Nov. 13, 2020 at 3:35 p.m. EST to clarify the grant amount.