Kim Guadagno is still cutting red tape while she is feeding thousands
By Art Gallagher
N.J. Looks to Award $2 Million to Buy Meals from Struggling Restaurants – A $2 million state program to provide $100,000 grants to organizations that purchase meals from restaurants impacted by the pandemic and distribute them at no cost to New Jersey residents has begun taking applications. Applications are due by Jan. 8. Click here for more information. (ROI-NJ)
I got excited when I read the above headline and lede in yesterday’s NJ Chamber of Commerce’s daily Coronavirus and Economic Recovery Update.
The RAINE Foundation immediately occurred to me as an organization that could spring to action and support local businesses while feeding those struggling to put food on the table. In my mind I was thinking of other community organizations and restaurants that could participate.
My enthusiasm quickly dissipated when I clicked through to Business.NJ.Gov and read the fine print. There’s the usual hoops to jump through for government work–proving your entity is registered with the state and has no outstanding tax issues. But there’s one big obstacle that would probably knock my friends at RAINE, the Highlands Business Partnership, Middletown Helps Its Own and other non-profits from participating in the NJ Economic Development Authority’s grant program.
In order to qualify for a minimum grant of $100,000, the applicant must prove that between March 9 and December 16 that they purchase 3,000 meals from NJ restaurants and spent at least $50,000 doing so. Just as I was thinking, “How many entities in NJ have done that?” the chat box on my screen activated and Kathleen asked me if I had any questions?
“How many NJ entities purchased 3000 meals from restaurants and spent $50,000 doing so between March 9 and December 16,” I typed into Kathleen’s box. She (I hope I am using the correct pronoun) asked me to wait while she searches for the answer. After a few minutes she comes back and says Business.NJ.Gov doesn’t have that information and refers me to a toll free number and email address for NJEDA.
A baby was crying and toddlers were screaming in the background when the NJEDA’s phone was answered. A nice woman, I assume, came on the line and asked if she could help me. “God bless you, working from home and taking care of your kids during these difficult times,” I said to greet her (pronoun?). “I am reading about the Sustain and Serve NJ Grant Program and I am hoping you can tell me how many entities in New Jersey purchased 3000 meals from NJ restaurants and spent $50,000 doing so from March 9-December 16.”
We chatted for a moment while I clarified my inquiry and the kids went wild before she put me on hold for several minutes to get the answer.
When she came back she explained that the call center does not have information on the Sustain and Serve NJ Grant Program, that they are handling calls on other programs, and that she does not have the information I am seeking. I sent an email with my question to the address given by Kathleen in the Business.NJ.Gov chatbox, but haven’t heard back.
So I sent a text to Kim Guadagno (formerly the Lt. Governor) the CEO of fulfill,(formerly the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties). I knew Kim and her team have been feeding thousands of Monmouth and Ocean residents during the pandemic, but I didn’t know if she was purchasing meals from restaurants.
Wow! fulfill has spent a lot more than $50,000 and bought a lot more than 3,000 meals.
Guadagno called me and told the story about how shortly after the state shutdown in March, a fulfill staffer came into her office in tears. A local food pantry had run out of food and 80 people were left hungry. Kim, who was in charge of cutting government red tape when she was Lt. Governor, called restaurateur Tim McLoone, who was sitting on food inventory in 10 locations that he couldn’t open, and offered him $5 per meal for 80 meals.
McLoone accepted the $400, provided the 80 meals and a new fulfill program was born with no red tape.
fulfill’s programs grew as a lifeline for for many participating restaurants and New Jersey residents in need. After the organization received a grant from the NJ Pandemic Relief Fund, Guadagno said they started paying $7 per meal.
Guadagno was aware of the NJEDA program but was not aware that applications had opened yesterday or that participating entities are required to have purchased 3000 meals and spent $50K already. She said she was aware of at least one other organization that might qualify.
The NJEDA program allows payment of up to $10 per meal. Restaurants can not apply themselves, but have to register, prove they are in good standing with Departments of Labor and Treasury. Restaurants also have to document the cost of food, labor, packaging, facilities and profit for every $10 meal.
Don’t let the red tape stop you if you own or manage a restaurant. Call Guadagno. Her staff will help you navigate the bureaucracy. It is the same number she gave out freely when she was LG and a candidate for Governor in 2017. If you don’t have it, contact her through fulfill.