TOMS RIVER – There were 17,223 people served by the St. Joseph’s food pantry last year.
Now, imagine serving that number out of a converted basement.
That was why staff at St. Joseph’s mounted a fundraising campaign to create a standalone building that would serve as a pantry. They tore down an old garage, and will likely have the new building up and running in six to eight months, said Rosemary Goebel, the social concerns coordinator for the group.
“For 13 years we’ve been in the basement. Six months is nothing,” she joked.
Unfortunately, the need for the building is that great. After Superstorm Sandy, the church saw the needs for service rise to almost 19,000 people, she said.
“It has dropped off slightly,” she said. “A lot of those people are back into homes and able to help themselves.”
However, there are still thousands who still need help. Of the 17,223 that were served last year, 5,346 were children.
“It’s quite an eye-opener,” she said.
They record their numbers based on what people are asking for, she explained. When people come in, they tell staff how many people are in their household, and they are given a number of bags that corresponds to that. Once per year, the clients are required to provide identification for the people they are claiming.
Even the way the food is doled out will likely change, she said. Other food banks have the room to let people come in and shop for what they want. In the basement, they just can’t do that. So, they have prepared bags ready for them. In a larger space, they would like to be able to set up the food so that people can pick up what they really need.
The new building will be larger than 1,700 square feet, she said. Importantly, it will be street level. So, no one will have to carry large amounts of groceries up and down stairs. This has been a problem with senior and handicapped clients.
The pantry receives much of its products from the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, she said. There are other sources as well. On the first weekend of the month, there is a van set up outside the church. Parishioners are asked to bring donations and put them in the van. The Monday after that, students at the school unpack the van and sort it. Frozen meat has a cut-off date by law that stores have to stop selling it, even though it is still good. They collect that meat from the ShopRite on Route 37 and the commissary at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. They also receive donations from Ocean County Hunger Relief, and bread from Panera Bread and Pepperidge Farms. When in season, fresh produce comes from gardens at Community Medical Center, the Rutgers extension, and Father Scott Shaffer’s garden.
“The Holy Spirit is always shining on us,” she said. “Whenever we need something, someone always walks in with it.”
“A couple of years ago, when I first got here in 2012, one of my goals was to get volunteers and clients out of the basement,” said Father Scott Shaffer, a pastor at St. Joseph’s. People are doing double or triple the work because of the bad location.
The fundraising, kicked off by a concert by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, is still ongoing, he said.
“There are more people than we think who are living at the edge of that poverty line. A lot of people are one paycheck away,” he said.
To help contribute, contact St. Joseph’s at 732-349-0018 or send a check with a memo for the “food pantry expansion” to St. Joseph’s Church, 711 Hooper Ave., Toms River, NJ 08753.
The pantry is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.