New Jersey’s food retailers have been deservedly praised for their heroic efforts during the pandemic.
As a group, however, they said they could not have done it on their own.
The New Jersey Food Council’s 48th annual Good Government Breakfast, held recently in Trenton, was a way for all groups to recognize the fine work that was accomplished.
“The event is a celebration of the good government process and our commitment to working with government officials and business community leaders on sound public policies that affect one of New Jersey’s largest and essential industries — food retail and distribution,” New Jersey Food Council President Linda Doherty said.
The event, which drew more than 60 elected officials, discussed federal issues and lauded the food industry as a key business partner. Additionally, lawmakers and food industry leaders shared key consumer and business issues.
The annual event is sponsored by the FCCfGG, New Jersey Food Council’s nonprofit political action committee formed in 1973, which aids and promotes the election of state lawmakers who support the priorities of food retailers. To date, the committee has supported more than 4,000 candidates for office in New Jersey.
The following five people were honored:
Good Government Award: Jennifer Sweeney, head of government affairs and public liaison, Campbell Soup Co.
Sweeney manages activities and relationships with local, state and federal governments, legislatures and regulatory agencies, as well as the company’s participation in trade associations.
In receiving the award, Sweeney said, she received a warm welcome from the NJFC when she transitioned from working as an aide in the U.S. Senate to joining the Campbell Soup Co. in June 2004 to support its government affairs program.
“I’ve enjoyed years of mentorship and friendship; thank you for the time invested in me,” she said, noting that Campbell has been serving food retailers for 153 years from its headquarters in Camden. “I hope I will continue to serve you well as a representative of the industry.”
Outstanding Legislator Award (Senate): Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark)
Ruiz, who joined the state Senate in 2008 and represents Newark, has championed legislation to restore the full sales tax exemption on business purchases made by grocers in Urban Enterprise Zones. Additionally, Ruiz has advocated for legislation to mitigate food insecurity, championing bills that increase access to SNAP and WIC, as well as critical food nutrition programs for lower-income households, women and children.
“Newark had been designated a food desert for far too long,” Ruiz said, noting a supermarket in the Central Ward, and thousands of others throughout the state, played a critical role during the pandemic, when the essential workers of the food industry made sure the doors remained open and the people were served.
Outstanding Legislator Award (Assembly): Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-Hackettstown)
DiMaio, who joined the Assembly in 2009, has long championed fiscal restraint and lessening the tax burden on businesses and individuals, which he advocated while serving as Republican budget officer and now as Republican leader. He continues to be accessible, responsive and open-minded to the entire New Jersey food retail industry.
He shared the story about going to a family-owned grocery store in Hackettstown in the 1960s, where the patriarch would be stocking shelves, bagging groceries and working the register.
“Small business works hard. It creates the jobs and is the catalyst for the state’s economy,” DiMaio said. “Hard-working people, like those in this group, build up businesses and keep prices competitive so people can afford to come into the store.”
The assemblyman said New Jersey lawmakers need to do their part to support local businesses, noting there is a $6 billion surplus in the state budget, yet unemployment insurance costs are rising for small business owners — despite the fact the state has received federal funds to help with consumer price stabilization.
Thomas W. Kelly Government Service Award: Nancy Scotto-Rosato, executive director, WIC Services
Scotto-Rosato, executive director of WIC Services in New Jersey, is a researcher, administrator and policy analyst with over 25 years of experience in the field of maternal and child health care and service delivery. She is assistant commissioner for the Division of Family Health Services, overseeing five programs and more than 150 staff, with a combined funding stream of more than $500 million.
“I am truly honored by this award,” Scotto-Rosato said, noting the NJFC played an integral role in helping launch “e-WIC,” a more convenient and flexible way to shop for WIC customers, as the purchasing of authorized WIC products can now be done via multiple trips to the store rather than purchasing all items at once. “I expect the partnership to continue with new WIC initiatives, such as online shopping.”
Good Government Partner Award: JoAnn Gemenden, executive director, NJ Clean Communities Council
Gemenden just completed her inaugural year as executive director of the New Jersey Clean Communities Council, in which she was tasked with implementing a statewide outreach and education program for the single-use plastics law known as “Litter Free NJ.”
Gemenden recalled how she learned at 10 a.m. Nov. 4, 2020, that she was selected as the new executive director. Two hours later, Gov. Phil Murphy signed sweeping bag ban legislation, charging the NJCCC with implementing a comprehensive, statewide education campaign for three years.
“The governor signed a law and now we were in charge of it,” she said. “Little did I know how much work it would be. It has been a challenging year, but we have been very fortunate to partner with the New Jersey Food Council and Linda Doherty. When you look back on your life, it is wonderful to be part of a campaign that is making such big strides to fight litter. We couldn’t do it without you, as well as the state Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Business Action Center. It has been a great partnership that continues.”