A church plays an important role in its community. It's a place to gather and socialize, and it's a place to worship. And, maybe most importantly, it's a source of help for those in need.

Mount Zion Baptist Church at 353 S. New Road in Pleasantville embraces its role as a keeper of the community, operating a food pantry from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the third and fourth Wednesday of each month.

It's an eagerness to live by the Bible's teachings, volunteer Marion Howard said, that has led the church to provide its help.

"With the economic times that we're in, this is a very integral part of what the church does," said Howard, who lives in Smithville. "Christ says, 'Feed my people.' That's what we're doing."

The church has held its food pantry since November 2011, and now serves 30 to 40 community families in a given week.

The service itself is actually made up of two separate food supplies. One is government-subsidized and requires clients to provide proof of identity, residence and need. Mount Zion funds a separate stream through donations as a way to ensure even those who lack the necessary documentation are fed.

"Of course, you do have (extenuating) circumstances," said volunteer Sharon Warren, who lives in the McKee City section of Egg Harbor Township. "You don't turn anyone away."

On the Wednesday mornings on which the pantry operates, Warren and Howard travel down the Black Horse Pike to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey's hub in Egg Harbor Township. The items they offer vary from week to week depending on the FoodBank's inventory, but often include meat, canned goods, grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Mount Zion decided to hold its distribution days on the third and fourth Wednesdays at the suggestion of the FoodBank, Warren said, because benefits such as pension and welfare payments, which are distributed on the first of the month, are often gone by that point.

The church distributes food to clients based on need - the larger or poorer a family is, Warren said, the more they'll receive. The largest individual population the food pantry serves is single men either living on the street or in ill-equipped affordable housing, and they receive less than families with children.

Despite their receiving less, the men don't complain, Warren said. In fact, they often take less so the families can have more.

"Many of the gentlemen will say, 'I don't need this, give it to somebody else,'" Sharon said. "It touches your heart when you hear that."

While the food pantry has been active since it started a year and a half ago, its volume of service has increased since Hurricane Sandy hit many in the area hard last fall.

For Warren, the hurricane has made it shockingly clear just how easy it is to slip from prosperity to poverty. It's this understanding, she said, that makes her want to help out.

"It's really about compassion and care for someone else, because you know what? We could all be there," she said. "We could all be there."

Contact Braden Campbell:


If you go

What: Mt. Zion Baptist's Food Pantry

When: Third and fourth Wednesdays, monthly.

Where: Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 353 S. New Road, Pleasantville.

How much: Free. Recipients should bring ID and proof of residency.

More info: Call 609-641-4337.