EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Tom Kaye sat among a dozen other people in plastic chairs on a recent afternoon, waiting for his name to be called so he could fill up a shopping cart with canned foods, gravy and cranberry relish, and pick from the fresh vegetables, fruits and produce piled high on crates.

Without the assistance of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch, Kaye said he would struggle to feed his family, but this year, he’ll be able to make a nice Thanksgiving spread with the fresh produce farmers and food-industry businesses donate year-round.

“This really brings communities together,” he said. “I grew up on a farm, so I know what that’s like, and being a farmer isn’t extremely profitable around this time of year, but they’re still donating food anyway out of the goodness of their hearts.”

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Food bank officials say produce donations from farmers and others help them feed hungry and food-insecure families and individuals in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, which translates to more than 1 million pounds of food each year.

Richard Uniacke, vice president of the Southern Branch, said more than a dozen farms contribute food to those in need, including ones in Bridgeton, Vineland, Hammonton, Lawrence Township and Deerfield Township.

One of the food bank’s biggest year-round donors is Frank Donio Inc., fourth-generation farmers based in Hammonton. Annie Pape, who helps run her family’s farm with her mother, uncle and cousins, said the farm has made it a goal to fight hunger and food insecurity.

“It’s all about the spirit of giving,” she said. “With most donations to hunger initiatives consisting of nonperishable or canned items, our access to fresh fruits and vegetables gives us a unique opportunity to give back to our neighbors who might be struggling.”

The farm is busy year-round, including the winter, when Pape said they source vegetables and fruits nationally and internationally to fill the gaps in their own growing season. With that produce, they are able to donate about one to two truckloads of food to the food bank each week.

“We all think of food insecurity during this time because the holidays are built around families gathering at the dinner table,” she said. “We are proud to help bring families together to share a healthy and nutritious meal.”

Renate Taylor, development officer at the food bank, said pallets of donated food are brought to the food bank’s main site in Egg Harbor Township and are distributed among 311 partner agencies and organizations with food pantries for residents across South Jersey.

Last week’s produce selections for Egg Harbor Township pantry clients included kale, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, yams, zucchini, yellow squash, lettuce, carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, garlic, melons and apples.

Wanda Jacobs, of Egg Harbor Township, said she encourages people to try the food bank if they need help. The employee at Wawa just next door to the food bank on the Black Horse Pike said the pantry helps supplement her monthly food costs.

As she weaved through the aisles of food last week, she picked up some fruits and vegetables, pre-made cranberry relish and turkey gravy, bread, canned foods, cornmeal and dessert, perfect for weekly meals for herself and for something to have on Thanksgiving.

Both Jacobs and Kaye said they are continuously impressed by the selections at the pantry, especially the vegetables and fruit that came straight from the source.

“It’s just so fresh, it’s all incredible,” Kaye said. “You know, I used to not want people to know I used the food bank, needing help while on disability after working for the state for 25 years, but now, I don’t mind. I tell people to come here, because it helps and it brings everyone together.”

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Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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