It’s a simple concept. The refrigerator is empty and the pantry is bare. So, what do you do? You go to the supermarket and stock up, right?

Well, for many New Jerseyans it’s not as simple as that.

There are 50 food desert communities, home to 1.5 million New Jersey residents across a diverse range of communities in all 21 counties, according to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Aaron Doucett, Unsplash
Aaron Doucett, Unsplash

What is a food desert community?

A food desert community is a community that is experiencing food insecurity, said Emily Apple, director for economic security at NJEDA.

At the federal level, it is defined generally as being within a certain proximity of a supermarket.

“But in New Jersey we undertook a really thorough community-driven process where we went out and asked people what it meant to be in a food desert community, to come up with a comprehensive definition that encompassed not only what is the food retail environment in your ability to act as a grocery store but also looking at factors like the housing cost in your community,” Apple said.

What are the transit options? What are the levels of enrollment in federal nutrition benefits so that people can not only access food but afford it?

“Ultimately, we found nearly 1.5 million New Jerseyans living in food desert communities across the state,” she said.

North, Central and South Camden/Woodlynne in Camden County is the number one food desert community in New Jersey. Montague Township in Sussex County ranked 50th on the list from the NJEDA.

Cuts of chicken lie in a display counter at a supermarket
Cuts of chicken lie in a display counter at a supermarket (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Where are the 50 food desert communities in New Jersey? (Ranked 1 - 50)

1. North, Central and South Camden/Woodlynne - Camden County

2. Atlantic City/Ventnor - Atlantic County

3. Newark South - Essex County

4. Newark West - Essex County

5. Camden East/Pennsauken - Camden County

6. Trenton West - Mercer County

7. Newark North and Central - Essex County

8. Newark East - Essex County

9. Salem City - Salem County

10. Passaic City - Passaic County

11. Trenton East - Mercer County

12. Bridgeton/Fairfield Twp/Lawrence Twp - Cumberland County

13. Paterson South - Passaic County

14. New Brunswick City - Middlesex County

15. Paterson North - Passaic County

16. Irvington Township - Essex County

17. Asbury Park City - Monmouth County

18. Jersey City South - Hudson County

19. East Orange City - Essex County

20. Penns Grove/Carneys Point - Salem County

21. Elizabeth City - Union County

22. Orange/West Orange/Montclair - Essex County

23. Jersey City Central - Hudson County

24. Perth Amboy City - Middlesex County

25. Lindenwold/Clementon - Camden County

26. Plainfield City - Union County

27. Pleasantville/Absecon - Atlantic County

28. Red Bank Borough - Monmouth County

29. Lakewood North - Ocean County

30. Jersey City North - Hudson County

31. Woodbine Borough - Cape May County

32. Long Branch City - Monmouth County

33. Millville/Commercial Twp - Cumberland County

34. Prospect Park/Haledon/Hawthorne - Passaic County

35. Keansburg Borough - Monmouth County

36. Paulsboro Borough - Gloucester County

37. Lakewood South - Ocean County

38. North Bergen/West New York/Guttenberg - Hudson County

39. Fairview Borough - Bergen County

40. Egg Harbor City - Atlantic County

41. Burlington City - Burlington County

42. Linden/Roselle - Union County

43. Vineland City - Cumberland County

44. Phillipsburg Town - Warren County

45. Bayonne City - Hudson County

46. Dover Town - Morris County

47. Bound Brook Borough - Somerset County

48. Union City - Hudson County

49. High Bridge Borough - Hunterdon County

50. Montague Township - Sussex County

More details on each food desert community can be found here.

Woman shopping for apples at a grocery store
Monkey Business Images

How can food retailers apply for FRIDG?

In the coming months, food retailers will be able to apply for the $2.5 million Food Retail Innovation Delivery Grant, appropriated through the Fiscal Year 2022 state budget, which is aligned with Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to combating food insecurity.

These grants up to $250,000 for food retailers that are authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or food stamps for online orders, to be able to purchase self-contained, temperature-controlled lockers, Apple explained.

Think of an Amazon locker where a package is securely delivered to a centralized location waiting for someone to pick it up. Apple said it’s like that except these lockers will be for grocery deliveries.

“The idea here is that we can leverage these supermarket and grocery stores that may not be within a food desert community, but have the ability to make deliveries into those communities, to be able to increase access to residents of those communities without having to take multiple buses or a taxi at their own expense,” Apple said.

Instead, residents can have their groceries delivered to a centralized location within their community, thereby increasing their accessibility to food and orders online.

Discount Grocery Outlet Sells Overstocked And Out-Of-Date Food
Getty Images

What are the eligibility requirements?

To be eligible, food retailers must be authorized to accept online orders paid with SNAP benefits. This was a pilot started by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Retailers need to be able to accept SNAP online so that food desert community residents who are using these benefits can access and order groceries to these lockers, in the same way, someone else could with a credit card.

Retailers must also be in good standing with sister agencies within the state including Taxation, Workforce Development, and Environmental Protection, as well as committing to placing these self-contained lockers within a food desert community, Apple said.

Currently, New Jersey SNAP recipients can purchase groceries online from 16 retailers, but many food desert community residents remain unable to receive groceries as they lack a reliable delivery location due to unpredictable work schedules, family obligations or housing insecurity.

Once the application window is open in the coming months, it will remain open for 18 months from the start date or until the funds are exhausted, whichever comes first, Apple said.

Retailers can find the application here. They must submit an application detailing their plan to purchase these lockers before actually buying one.

Incentives are built into the program to co-locate these lockers with a community-based or social-service organization such as a food pantry, a soup kitchen, a community center, or a library where people are already accessing the services that they need, Apple said.

While the NJEDA has seen refrigerated lockers being adopted in other states, she said they don’t know of another state that’s doing a program to specifically incentivize retailers to use this model.

“It will be new for this state and something we’re really excited to pilot and potentially adopt and see how this makes an impact on increasing accessibility to food desert community residents while helping retailers transition to this new business model of e-commerce and what that means for shifting away from in-person in-store shopping and toward more e-commerce and online shopping,” Apple said.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at

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