TOMS RIVER – How can you serve people when you’re not allowed to go near them?
That’s the problem that service organizations like the Salvation Army have had to wrestle with since the onset of COVID-19. Social distancing regulations are still very important, which makes them adjust their operations in order to still help people in need, said Major Stephen Ditmer of the Salvation Army on Route 37 in Toms River.
“We had to scale way back in gatherings,” he said. Even now that the state is slowly reopening, they still have to be outside.
The big dining area inside the building on Route 37 is not open for those in need right now, he said. Instead of dinners, they serve takeaway on Thursday nights. The line starts at 4:30 p.m. and lasts for the better part of an hour. There’s a line and people are told to keep six feet apart. However, the homeless population isn’t plugged into social media so they aren’t aware of every detail of the COVID-19 situation.
“The barrage of behavioral instruction via social media is not getting to them,” he said, at least in the beginning of the pandemic.
The food pantry is open five days a week by appointment. People should call 732-270-8393 to schedule an appointment.
A local volunteer group called A Need We Feed has been going to local restaurants to get pre-packaged meals donated.
Fulfill has been providing crisis relief boxes that the Salvation Army would supplement or modify if needed for people. Ditmer estimated that the number of customers needing food tripled when the pandemic hit. The demand has since reduced closer to the normal need.
But the group also feeds the soul.
Every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. they hold a service in their parking lot. The sermon is broadcast from speakers. People sit in their cars or in folding chairs in front of their cars. There’s also a service on Facebook for those who can’t make it.
For more information about any of these programs, visit Salvation Army Ocean County on Facebook.