Join us for an extraordinary evening honoring New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin with the 2024 Humanitarian Award for his unwavering commitment to the fight against hunger.

We are delighted to announce that special guest Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, will join us with a special introduction at the evening’s presentation.

The Honorable Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin has served in the General Assembly since 2010, representing the 19th Legislative District. He is the longest serving Speaker in New Jersey history, now in his fourth term.

Speaker Coughlin has consistently made accessibility to food a top legislative priority. “More than a governmental obligation, we have a moral obligation to make sure people are able to access healthy and nutritious foods which in turn empowers them to lead successful and fulfilling lives.”

His actions speak volumes about his passion for this work on behalf of New Jerseyans and set a tremendous example for our country: Speaker Coughlin created the nation’s first state cabinet-level position to promote food security, Director of the Office of Food Security Advocate, currently held by Mark Dinglasan. When COVID emergency benefits ended, Coughlin led the effort to increase the minimum SNAP benefit in New Jersey from $50 to $95. Understanding the critical role food banks play in New Jersey, substantial funding is provided to purchase food and infrastructure support for the vast network of charitable food distribution agencies across the state. In January 2024, Coughlin also helped expand the number of students eligible for free breakfast and lunch in New Jersey schools. 

Long before he became Speaker, Coughlin sought to feed neighbors in need by starting the Bowl For Hunger fundraising event more than 14 years ago in Middlesex County. Over $400,000 has been raised at that event for local food pantries. 

Speaker Craig Coughlin is a Humanitarian Leader in every sense of the word.

Highlights of the Speaker’s legislative tenure include raising the state’s minimum wage, delivering property tax relief, investing in childcare and mental health programs, increasing public school funding, ending surprise medical bills, and improving the state’s environmental remediation programs to provide a cleaner, safer future. These initiatives were made possible by the responsible state budgeting and fiscal stewardship during his time as Speaker.

Speaker Coughlin has spent his legislative career fighting for the working people of New Jersey. The first bill passed in his tenure as Speaker was the Equal Pay for Women Act. Under his leadership, the Democratic caucus has spearheaded numerous bills to provide tax relief for the people who need it most— middle-class families and seniors.

After securing passage of the ANCHOR program, the largest property tax relief program in state history at the time, Speaker Coughlin authored the StayNJ program, which will cut seniors’ property taxes in half. Coupled with expansions in prescription drug assistance programs of PAAD and Senior Gold, New Jersey seniors will see real savings and improved affordability.

The issue closest to Speaker Coughlin’s heart is the fight against hunger. His policy agenda has prioritized food security for New Jersey families and ending childhood hunger. He has worked to expand free school lunches and sponsored four expansive anti-hunger bill packages, including increasing aid to food banks by 500%, and creating a first-in-the-nation Office of Food Security Advocate. His ultimate goal, in concert with a coalition of community leaders on this issue, is the elimination of hunger in New Jersey by 2030. Speaker Coughlin stresses the importance of local engagement on food security to highlight the needs in every community—including his annual bowling fundraiser to benefit local food pantries in his district, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and recruiting volunteers.

Speaker Coughlin is a lifelong resident of Middlesex County.  He was born in Perth Amboy on January 31, 1958 and attended public schools in South Amboy. He attended St. John’s University for his B.A. (summa cum laude ’80) and J.D. (’83).  Before running for the Assembly in 2009, Coughlin was a member of the South Amboy Board of Education and served as a South Amboy City Councilman for six years. Speaker Coughlin has also served in various legal capacities including as a municipal court judge, prosecutor and public defender.

Coughlin is a partner in Woodbridge-based law firm, Rainone, Coughlin, Minchello LLC. He and his wife, Letitia, live in Woodbridge and have three sons—Craig Jr., Vincent, and Nicholas.  He is also the proud grandfather of Claire and Jameson.

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is a leader and advocate dedicated to combating hunger and strengthening communities. Her decades long service in social justice and humanitarian efforts is emblematic of her unwavering commitment to working alongside people experiencing food insecurity to create sustainable, equitable solutions in the movement to end hunger. Since 2018, Claire has served as the Chief Executive Officer of Feeding America, a network of food banks, statewide food bank associations, food pantries and meal programs, and the largest charity in the United States since 2022, according to Forbes. Prior to joining Feeding America, Claire has been entrusted to lead effective teams for three decades, including 13 years on Walmart’s leadership team, most recently as executive vice president and global treasurer where she had global responsibility for tax, treasury operations, capital markets, investor relations, global risk management, casualty, and self-insurance, leading teams across 28 countries and over 1,000 associates worldwide.

A Louisiana native, Claire holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, a Juris Doctor from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, La.; and a Master of Laws in Taxation from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Texas. Claire was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2020. In 2021, she was honored with PRWeek’s Communicator of the Year award and Southern Methodist University’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Claire was among Forbes 50 over 50 in 2022, and, in 2023, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities honored Claire with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Her relentless pursuit of an equitable, hunger-free America exemplifies her as a trailblazer and a compassionate advocate for social justice.

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