WILDWOOD – When the coronavirus pandemic began, Faith Matters visited the food pantry at the First United Methodist Church, in Court House. As the county sees an uptick in positive Covid cases, a second look was warranted, and the scope widened across Cape May County.
Three local food pantries responded: Lazarus House, in Wildwood, First United Methodist Church, in Court House, and the Gleaning Center, which is connected with Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene, in Erma.
At Burk and Pacific avenues, Lazarus House is an ecumenical food pantry, where “all guests are greeted with a friendly smile, spirit of hospitality, and encouragement.”
Now, those friendly smiles are hidden behind masks. Yet, Director Frank Stone is pleased with the services they can provide, despite Covid.
“Up to two weeks ago, we let people inside,” Stone said, while sitting in the pantry’s office Dec. 17. Two volunteers tested positive for coronavirus, closing the pantry’s doors to the public. Clients can pick up items as volunteers bring bags outside. A comprehensive list, in English and Spanish, is given to each client.
“We run back and forth,” Stone said. Yet, the system is taking shape, enabling smoother and safer service.
“It’s a work in progress,” said volunteer Kathy Gallagher. She helps in organizing goods and the delivery process. Over 65 volunteers help at Lazarus House, although not all are currently serving.
Lazarus House opened, in 2011, under the guidance of the Greater Wildwood Pastors Association. It is in its permanent location at the former First Presbyterian Church of Wildwood, now Living Waters Veteran’s Memorial Chapel.
Six county churches support Lazarus House. Four Wawa stores and an Acme contribute baked goods and produce to the pantry.
As a result of the coronavirus, volunteers saw a “jump” in numbers and then dwindling crowds. Stone attributes the decline to clients moving in with family members, to pool resources.
“Some moved off the island,” Stone added. Government stimulus money improved conditions for some families, as well.
“It takes courage to stand in line for food,” Gallagher said. She is saddened by the stigma attached to receiving help from food pantries and other organizations.
Another shock came when she handed out food/item lists and realized that several clients could not read. A volunteer assists clients with filling out the lists. New faces are seen as the pandemic continues, revealing a dichotomy in society.
Stone gave a tour of the facility, showcasing a newly donated deli case and baskets for fresh produce. He hopes for better conditions, in 2021, allowing clients to reenter the building and select items for themselves. The shelves are stocked with canned goods and paper items, i.e., toilet paper and paper towels.
“The holidays are not always a happy time for people,” Stone said. He is grateful for volunteers who span the spectrum, from retired nurses, postmasters, doctors, and accountants bringing their talents to the pantry.
“It’s about building relationships,” Stone said. With clients and fellow volunteers, making personal contact is paramount, even as social distancing is observed.
“We are open and ready to serve,” Gallagher concluded.
Donations are accepted and personnel can be reached at 609-522-1500. Lazarus House is open every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (https://bit.ly/2Wqhj0H).
First United Methodist Church
“We saw an increase in April through June,” Director Mike Mowery said, in a Dec. 16 phone interview. According to his calculations, Mowery said the pantry served 121 families, from April to August, resulting in a 57% increase from 2019.
Before the pandemic, clients could enter the building, selecting a hot breakfast sandwich while children’s activities were held. Counselors would sit with clients, providing encouragement, and listening to their stories.
Mowery said he misses the personal aspect of the ministry, although someone will pray with clients as bags are delivered to their vehicle.
Twenty new families used the pantry in November and December.
Each bag is prepackaged, normally totaling four or five bags per family. Canned goods and non-perishable items, i.e., mac and cheese and pasta, are provided, along with gift cards to ShopRite for produce and perishable goods, such as milk and eggs.
“It’s been an interesting year,” Mowery said. He is grateful for the Methodist congregation and other churches that have donated time and funds. Local businesses have also contributed, such as Crest Savings Bank.
“The congregation really stepped up,” Mowery reflected.
Donations are always needed, and the food pantry can be reached at 609-465-7087. A list of desired items is posted on its website (http://bit.ly/38ctuns).
The Gleaning Center
Almond Weech, a native of the Bahamas, oversees the daily operation of the Gleaning Center and other compassionate ministries of Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene.
“We have seen an increase in emergency clients,” Weech said, in a Dec. 16 phone interview. Statistics reveal that the clients come from various parts of the county, not only Lower Township. Many say they were referred to the Gleaning Center.
Each client comes on a “first come, first serve” basis with a pick-up date. For fresh produce, a number system is followed.
“We try to focus on meals. Dietary issues are accounted for,” Weech said. Prepacked goods for breakfast, i.e., oatmeal, cereal and pancake mix, are bagged, along with canned goods for lunch and dinner, i.e., pasta, macaroni and cheese and ham.
Canned fruit, snacks, peanut butter, and other items are also provided. Non-microwavable items are stocked for homeless clients who may not have access to cooking facilities.
Weech said their system is not perfect, but it is being refined.
“We ask for your patience,” Weech said.
Donations in canned goods are requested, and the pantry can be reached at 609-886-6196. The Gleaning Center is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (http://bit.ly/3msf33D).
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.