OCNJ CARE has opened a temporary food pantry at the Ocean City Civic Center to serve the City's Spanish-speaking segment, many of whom were greatly affected by the storm.

OCNJ CARE Chairman Drew Fasy said after making contact with some of Ocean City's Spanish-speaking residents, the group found many of them are still in dire need of assistance.

"They've been in fairly rough shape since the storm," Fasy said. "They live in areas that were hard hit and their employment status is already shaky as many work in seasonal jobs or in businesses that were also greatly impacted by the storm."

The group also learned that the Spanish-speaking residents of Ocean City, at large, aren't comfortable turning to the Ocean City Ecumenical Food Cupboard, located at St. Peter's United Methodist Church, for assistance. Moreover, St. Peter's food pantry doesn't have the items needed most by this group.

"Food of any kind is great, yes, but the kind of food you're used to eating is better," OCNJ CARE volunteer Karin Gleason said.

The civic center food pantry is meant to serve their unique needs, Gleason said. With the help of a few of the Ocean City's Hispanic residents, OCNJ CARE was able to compile a list of desired items, which includes several ethnic foods and baby items such as diapers and formula.

Gleason, who was one of the people who ran the relief center right after the storm, said that through her work there she was able to meet an Ocean City woman whose husband is Hispanic and who shared with her this issue.

"I learned about the unbelievable need in (the Hispanic) community," she said.

Since then, she said she's seen many of Ocean City's Hispanic familes' homes and she said, from the looks of it, they are not going to be able to be repaired. As for the homes that can be repaired, Gleason said many landlords have renovated those properties, but then have raised the rent.

"My fear is that these people will not be able to afford to stay in Ocean City without our help," she said.

Fasy said OCNJ CARE is doing all it can to help, including collecting gently used clothing and furniture and organizing the food pantry. But another issue, he said, is a shortage of space to store the donations and set up collection sites.

"Circle Liquors in Somers Point has lent us a warehouse space to store donated furniture, and we filled it right up," he said.

Any person who owns a nearby property that could be used to store donated furniture and/or clothing and is willing to lend it out for this use to OCNJ CARE would be of great assistance, Fasy said.

In the meantime, food is the main priority.

"It's already been a struggle to keep the pantry filled," he said. "We were able to secure a small truckload of (food) donations, but our stock is already dwindling."

The goal is to keep the Civic Center food pantry open at least through the winter, Fasy said, and then to reassess the need. Donations can be dropped off at the Civic Center at the times listed in the box below.

Gleason said she and Pastor Brian Robert of St. Peter's United Methodist Church, who is also the co-chair of OCNJ CARE, are also looking into ways to maintain and grow a relationship with Ocean City's Spanish-speaking community members.

In doing so, St. Peter's will host a monthly Hispanic dinner at the churchthe last Thursday of each month, which will piggy back off of its ESL classes which are at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first dinner will be held 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31 and will be a pilot. If all goes well, it will continue, Roberts said.

"If we lose diversity in Ocean City, that would be a horrible, horrible thing," Gleason said.

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-463-6713

How to help

Food donations can be dropped off at the Ocean City Civic Center, 6th and Boardwalk, from 1-4 p.m.Monday through Saturday.

Items that are in high demand include white corn flour, rice, fruit in cans or cups, dry milk, diapers (size 2 - 6), baby formula, baby food and juices. Also in need is tomato paste, beans, soups, pastas, oil, salt, sugar, cereal, chocolate, coffee, soap, toothpaste and toilet paper.

Call 1-855-622-2730 or visit ocnjcare.org.