Cape May County government is leading a food drive through March 31 to benefit some of the county's food pantries that are in need of donations.

Cape May County Communications Director Lenora Boninfante came up with the idea and is organizing the collection, called Cape May County Helping Our Neighbors. She has put collection boxes in several county buildings.

The winter is an especially tough time for people in need, Boninfante said. Many local food pantries simply can't keep up with the demand. They rely on donations from the community, she said. But after making some calls to several local pantries, Boninfante said, she has found this winter is turning out to be particularly difficult for them to stay stocked, which she attributes to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

"People are giving elsewhere, as they should, but then the focus on what is needed at home gets pushed aside," Boninfante said.

Some residents who normally donate to local pantries are giving to organizations that send donations farther north, to help people who suffered much greater storm losses than Cape May County residents did. But on the flip side, Cape May County has seen a rise in the number of needy residents as a result of the storm, too, and some people from worse-hit areas have been temporarily relocated to Cape May County, adding to the strain.

"After Hurricane Sandy, more than 400 families came to our areas for shelter," Boninfante said. "So they were also being provided food through our food pantries."

The Cape May County Helping Our Neighbors food drive is in no way meant to take away from those who need it more, which is why the county decided not to open the drive to the public until mid-December, she said. The collection actually kicked off in early October, but it was only open to county employees, she said.

From October to mid-December, county employees donated 30 boxes of packaged food for two local food pantries: the Family Success Center of Cape May County's food pantry, in the Rio Grande section of Middle Township, and St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish's food pantry, in the Marmora section of Upper Township. The drive is now open to the public.

Boninfante said at the end of each month she will select two different county food pantries to receive the donations, based on need.

Family Success Center of Cape May County program manager Allison Raisch said the donations, which they received Dec. 11, were a big help for her organization and were much needed.

"If we didn't have them, there would have been so many families we would have had to turn away," Raisch said.

The Family Success Center's food pantry is open for pickup of donations from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Tuesday and the third Thursday of each month, which this month is Dec. 20.

Raisch said donations can be dropped off directly to the center, 1046B Route 47, Rio Grande behind the Social Security Administration building, from

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

"As soon as (the pantry) is full, it gets depleted again," she said.

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-463-6713

How to help

Donations can be dropped off to county facilities from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Posters and collection bins can be found in all county facilities, including the County Administration Building, all library branches, the county clerk and surrogate's offices, Department of Aging, senior centers and in places such as the county park and zoo.

The program runs through March 31. All items collected will be used to replenish other local food pantries. For more information, call the Cape May County Communications Office, 609-465-1066.