MANCHESTER – A combined effort between Community Medical Center, Ocean County and a local business, The Barn is providing food and fun for area seniors.
Located on Route 70 West in the Whiting section of the township, The Barn is a 6,000-square-foot facility that is a combination supermarket-style food pantry, market with items for sale, and a restaurant.
The facility is owned and operated by Pat Donaghue who is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Inspire-NJ. She said that on Wednesdays, Community Medical Center comes in and distributes hot meals for those in need while a program coordinated through the Ocean County Recreation Department provides an activity.
During The Manchester Times recent visit to The Barn, the activity of the day was making flower pots.
Among those who came out for the day’s recreation activity were Anita Shade of Cedar Glen Lake and her friend Kitti D’Amore of Berkeley Township. Both said they were having fun but weren’t too sure of their artistic abilities in creating the pots.
“I’m a lousy artist,” D’Amore said laughing as she was applying some tiles to the pot. “I have two of them at home that my son gave me. I killed both the flowers that were in there in a very short time.”
“Chef Tom over at Community Medical Center comes in each Wednesday along with his crew and volunteers and they bring in the food and we help distribute it,” Donaghue said. The food is from the hospital kitchens.
“Community Medical Center is really stepping up,” she added. “This started I think since October. We started to do meal distribution before Thanksgiving because on Thanksgiving they brought in 300 Thanksgiving meals.”
Donaghue had hoped to have had The Barn open to the public as a business last year but said there were several days, including issues from the pandemic and having to navigate Pinelands Commission applications.
“There have been some stops and starts to put it mildly,” Donaghue remarked. “There have been people from around the town and area towns who have been incredibly supportive but we are living in some weird times right now.”
Donaghue remains patient noting a barbecue business in the township that took about two years to get up and running. She hopes to open The Barn later this summer. Last autumn, she told The Manchester Times that the restaurant’s menu would be similar to the chain restaurant, Cracker Barrel. “That is exactly the kind of food that The Barn will be offering.”
“We’re getting there but this is a bit more complicated. I’m waiting for my final inspection and CO (certificate of occupancy) and we’re trying to get some permits,” Donaghue added.
As for now, each Wednesday The Barn is the destination point for some food and fun activity for an average of “50 to 60 people, all seniors, and this is happening with very little to any advertising,” she said.
Donaghue also said, “we will be offering and delivering hot, nutritious, supplemental meals to those in need daily. We will also be delivering full pantry orders to the clients who are unable to get to the facility and we’ll be running mobile pantries on a weekly basis, especially to the Crestwood Villages.”
She said at the time that the plan calls for the pantry to allow clients to choose what they want, instead of being given pre-made bags of items.
“We will be offering fresh produce, meats, cheeses, healthy canned and dry goods, bakery products and much more,” Donaghue said. A garden has been created in recent months on the property of The Barn.
While throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties there are 280 food pantries, only five of those pantries operate five days a week, she said. “We will be ensuring all needed food and supplies will be delivered to our most vulnerable seniors and the disabled, while running a brick-and-mortar site five days a week and providing mobile pantry services every weekend.”
INSPIRE-NJ was founded in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and opened a center in the Bellcrest Plaza on Fischer Boulevard in Toms River on November 12, 2012, working with the Toms River Township and Toms River Regional Schools.
They later joined with the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation and Fulfill, the foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, into a multi-agency group called the BEAT Center, designed to answer all the needs of a person, not just nutritional.
“One thing I have never gotten used to and will never get used to is those that cry out in gratitude. They don’t have to register in advance they can just show up. We start the senior recreation program at 1 p.m. and then Community Medical Center comes in with the meals around 2 p.m. and as they are packed up they take them as they leave.”
“Once we are up and running completely, I am hoping to be doing congregant meals and things like that,” she added.