NEPTUNE — Residents of Monmouth and Ocean counties can now send a text message to find the closest food pantries to home — a tool launched to help satisfy increased demand caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The "FindFood" text system, the first of its kind in the Garden State, was announced Monday via Zoom press conference by Fulfill, formerly The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

Those in need of food can text "findfood" or "comida" to 888-918-2729. Texters will then be prompted to send their zip codes.

"When you put in your zip code, it'll find the three closest pantries," said Fulfill CEO and President Kim Guadagno, former lieutenant governor of New Jersey.

Guadagno noted the listings will be accompanied by a phone number, and residents should call ahead because many pantries are open only certain days of the week. Some pantries have also had to close their doors due to logistics and volunteer concerns.

"We are a pilot program. We hope to take it statewide over the next couple weeks," Guadango said.

Since COVID-19 started affecting the region, Fulfill has seen a 40% increase in the demand for food. Over the past month, Fulfill has served at least 364,000 more meals that it usually would.

Guadagno said many families confronted by food insecurity may have never encountered this problem before, so this system gives them an easy and convenient way to determine where to go for help.

"We're doing it now because it's needed right now," she said. "If you want to find a pantry anywhere in Monmouth and Ocean County, all you have to do is look at your phone."

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