Harvesting Hope: The Heart of Southern New Jersey’s Local Food Banks

In recent years, Southern New Jersey has witnessed a notable surge in the establishment of food banks. Once considered a solution for temporary crises, these vital community resources have now become vital resources to have in communities all over as food insecurity and hunger remains a prominent issue.

In the heart of South Jersey, organizations like Kings Things Christian Thrift Store and Furniture Store and St. Peters Community Pantry stand as a driving force in the Swedesboro/Woolwich/East Greenwich area to aid and serve its community with a mission to make sure no one goes to bed hungry.

Located at 1404 Kings Highway in Swedesboro is King Thing’s Christian Thrift Store and Food Pantry. Kings Things Christian Thrift Store and Furniture Store was founded back in 1983 by five Swedesboro churches.

Kings Things is a 501(C)3 non-profit corporation with a mission to serve the Swedesboro community. Under the management of Gerry Siglow and with the help of dedicated volunteers, King Things is able to provide food to those in need, as well as foster other programs like the Benevolence Project.

The Benevolence Project is a community outreach program that helps those in need of emergency funds for things like rent, utility bills, as well as funeral expenses.

King Thing’s is able to maintain its inventory through donated staples from corporate partners like Rastelli Global, McKesson Drugs, Tyson Foods, Goddard School, and McLane Food Services NJ along with local organizations such as the Columbiettes, Swedesboro Post Office, Boy and Girl Scouts, and residents who contribute to the pantry through annual food drives.

Additionally, donation items are also sourced from the South Jersey Food Bank. Moreover, the pantry provides clients with a means to purchase perishable goods through a $20 voucher redeemable at Bottos Market.

St. Peters Community Pantry is located behind the Parish Hall at 304 Kings Highway in Clarksboro. St. Peter’s Community Pantry operates as a beacon of support for those facing food insecurity, offering free provisions to individuals and families in need every fourth Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Their monthly distribution provides members of the community with essential items, including canned goods, meat, dairy, bread, baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and sundry items. Central to the pantry’s mission is its reliance on the generosity of local businesses and individuals, whose donations ensure that the shelves remain well-stocked to meet the demand.

While donations are welcome at any time, special collection days are organized from 10 a.m. to noon every second Saturday, providing an opportunity for the community to come together and contribute to this vital cause.

South Jersey, like many regions across the country, has been grappling with economic challenges and shifting demographics. As job opportunities fluctuate and the cost of living rises, more families find themselves struggling to put food on the table.

This growing need for assistance has led to a sharp increase in the demand for food bank services.

Beth O’Connor a founding member of the St. Peters Community Food Pantry touches on this, sharing that after relief funds that were offered due to the COVID-19 pandemic came to an end many members of the community now face food insecurity as a result. O’Connor said, “If you’re in the greater part of Gloucester County, you wouldn’t think that anybody was hungry. But there are pockets in Gloucester County of extreme poverty.”

She went on to add, “Within those communities that are essentially of affluent or affluent looking, there are people that have lost jobs, high paying jobs, because of varying things. Things closing down in response to the pandemic, and never opening again. There’s people that were living in houses that can’t afford their mortgages anymore. And with all these challenges you still have to feed your family somehow.”

In response to the escalating need, communities across Southern New Jersey have mobilized to establish and support food banks. Local charities, religious organizations, and community groups have stepped up to address food insecurity, rallying volunteers and resources to ensure that no one in their neighborhoods goes hungry.

The scale of food bank usage in Southern New Jersey is staggering. Thousands of individuals and families rely on these services each month to supplement their groceries and make ends meet.

According to The Food Bank of South Jersey, more than 39,750 children within South Jersey are food insecure, with around 5,910 of those children residing in Gloucester County. Located at 1501 John Tipton Boulevard in Pennsauken, The Food Bank of South Jersey is also a prominent member of the fight against food insecurity in New Jersey since it was founded back in 1985.

In 2023 alone The Food Bank of South Jersey distributed over 22 million pound of food to those in need, which is equivalent to around 18.4 million meals. Along with this they also provide programs like Kids Thrive 365 which sets out to feed children who are food insecure in schools and also during the summer months when schools are out as well.

They also offer the Senior Nutrition Resource Supplement Program for members of the community who are 60 years or older to low-income seniors providing them with a two-week supply of groceries based on their nutritional needs. In addition to these programs, they offer pantries to qualifying schools, pop-up distribution pantries, the Hope mobile distribution pantry, and outreach to help those looking to apply for SNAP food assistance.

Despite their invaluable contributions to the community, food banks in South Jersey encounter a myriad of challenges. O’Connor reflects on the challenges on the eve of the one year anniversary of St. Peters Community Pantry opening its doors to the public, with the main challenge being ensuring the shelves are filled. On the fourth Saturday when the pantry gives out the food they’ve collected, the shelves are practically emptied.

Because of this, every month the pantry finds themselves in the position where they have to essentially start from scratch, with the worry in the back of their minds if they will have enough food to feed the community when the pantry opens again in the weeks to come.

Amid the challenges that arise, St. Peters Community Pantry has succeeded in its mission over the past year to feed its community. Starting out, the pantry served around 34 families and is now feeding around 125, and manages to provide these families with about 40 to 50 pounds of food every month.

In the last year since they’ve been open, they have distributed over 55,000 pounds of food to those in need. O’Connor says, “It’s our mission to always be giving people as much food as we possibly can.”

As food insecurity continues to challenge communities in Southern New Jersey, the tireless efforts of organizations like Kings Things Christian Thrift Store, St. Peters Community Pantry, and The Food Bank of South Jersey stand as beacons of light. Despite facing ongoing challenges, from fluctuating donations to rising demand, these vital resources remain dedicated in their commitment to serving those in need.

Through the hard work of volunteers, support from local businesses, and the generosity of donors, they have made significant strides in alleviating hunger. As they press forward in their mission, their impact echoes far beyond the shelves of their pantries, resonating in the lives of countless individuals and families who find solace in a warm meal.

By Asiya Robinson

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