The NJ Coalition of Religious Leaders gathered in at the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in South Bound Brook/Somerset, NJ for the formal semi-annual gathering.
The New Jersey Coalition of Religious Leaders, some fifty years old, represents religious leadership from Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith traditions. The Coalition's membership of some sixty-five faith leaders includes Bishops, Imams, Rabbis, Denominational Executives and faith based public policy executives.
In his introductory remarks, Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz – President of NJCRL, welcomed the participants to the meeting and called upon Bishop Tracie Bartholomew, Bishop New Jersey Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to offer invocation.
Rabbi Gewirtz expressed the gratitude of NJCRL to the UOC of the USA for hosting the meeting and invited Archbishop Daniel to address the gathering.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel welcomed the participants of the plenary sessions to the Spiritual Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and expressed his gratitude to the participants of the meeting for their continued support of Ukrainian refugees, especially those in the State of New Jersey.
“…we are gathered here on the 243rd day of the genocidal aggression of the Russian Federation against the people of Ukraine. I welcome you to the Spiritual Center of the Church with the words of gratitude for the love and care you have shown the people of Ukraine, especially those that reside in our Garden State…” In his presentation, the archbishop reflected upon the crucial ministry that the UOC of the USA is involved in the military hospitals in Ukraine, especially in the city of Kyiv, bringing to attention the example of Pani Vira Savoliy, who daily distributes home-cooked meals to the wounded soldiers of Ukraine.
Vladyka spoke about the sacrifices that individuals make to provide proper nourishment to those in need in Ukraine, but also in the US and especially in the Garden State. The topic of the Food Insecurity and its charitable distribution was at the heart of the plenary sessions of the meeting of the Council of Religious Leaders of NJ.
Amon the panelists were Rev. Dr. Tanya Bennett of the Drew Theological Seminary, Chair of Board of Church & Society of Greater NJ United Methodist Church; Tara Colton, Senior Vice President of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority for Economic Security and Administrator for the NJ Food Desert Relief Act; Mark Dinglasan, Director of the NJ Office of Food Security; Lisa Pitz, Director for Food Action/Hunger Free NJ and Carlos Rodriguez, President and CEO of Community Food Bank of NJ.
The participants of the plenary session address the vital issue of the Garden State community: 38 million people in the US are food insecure.
About 650,000 people in New Jersey face hunger every day. 175,000 of them are children. When they don’t have enough food to eat, they can suffer direct and dramatic effects on their physical development and mental well-being.
Food insecurity exists in every county across the United States, from the poorest neighborhoods to the most affluent. Parents skip meals so they can feed their children, seniors choose between buying medicine and food, and students decide between their education and food. These tough choices are an unfortunate reality for many of New Jersey neighbors.
The Food Desert Relief Program addresses the food security needs of communities across New Jersey by providing up to $40 million per year in tax credits, loans, grants, and/or technical assistance to increase access to nutritious foods and develop new approaches to alleviate food deserts.
Through the Program, the NJ Economic Development Authority identified up to 50 food desert communities across the state in coordination with the Departments of Community Affairs and Agriculture; awarding tax credits to incentivize businesses to establish and retain new supermarkets and grocery stores in food desert communities; offering technical assistance on best practices for increasing the accessibility of nutritious foods; and provides grants and loans for food retailers of all sizes to fund equipment costs associated with providing fresh food, technology costs associated with supporting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) payments, and initiatives to ensure food security.
The participants of the meeting learned about the ways of getting involved and assisting the state government in addressing the issue of hunger through faith and volunteer communities. New plans and initiatives were introduced and discussed for implementation.
The final payer before lunch was offered by Imam W Deen Shareef, Convener of the Council of Imams in NJ, who offered his gratitude to the UOC of the USA for hosting the meeting.
The attendees of the Semi-Annual meeting were treated to a traditional Ukrainian luncheon of borsch and varenyky, prepared by the staff of the Consistory of the UOC of the USA and the Ukrainian Cultural Center.
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The history of the Coalition began in 1967 when than New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes called upon religious leaders to address the issue of civil unrest after the devastating Newark riots. Over it’s fifty year history the Coalition has provided opportunities for religious leaders to establish on going relationships of mutual respect and friendship and serve as a moral voice in the state addressing issues of social justice.
Those issues have included integrity in government, racial profiling, criminal justice reform, fair share housing, immigration, environmental justice, prevention of Gun Violence, hate crimes and racial equity. The Coalition membership meets annually with the New Jersey State Governor as well as meetings with elected federal and state Legislators. The Coalition has hosted meetings with noted National Religious Leaders and Religious Educators addressing the challenges that religious institutions are facing.
Vision Statement: The Coalition of Religious Leaders of New Jersey seeks to build informed relationships and collaborate around sacred values uniting us in action towards justice and mercy for the common good.