VENTNOR — Tonya Smith found herself helping an elderly woman in her early 90s from Ventnor who had shown up to a recent mobile food pantry in Somers Point.
Smith, mobile pantry coordinator for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s Southern Branch, said the woman needed proper hearing aids but couldn’t afford them. She shouldn’t have been driving that day, but she had no choice, Smith said.
A fight over the relocation and re-establishment of the Ventnor mobile pantry will make more needy residents travel farther, food bank advocates said.
Ventnor officials shut down the mobile food pantry in July because its spot at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Dorset Avenue had become overcrowded.
On a Wednesday, a line of people with shopping carts and boxes makes its way around a makesh…
City Commissioners proposed moving the mobile pantry to Ski Beach near the NJ Transit bus stop and ample parking spaces, but nearby residents said they don’t want it there.
“We’re not against the mobile pantry or helping anyone in need,” said city resident Susan Blitzstein. “We just don’t think this is the right spot for it.”
Food bank officials said they established the mobile pantry in Ventnor in 2011 because they identified a population of people lacking access to healthy food.
More than 14 percent of Ventnor residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That rate is higher than those in Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township, Somers Point and Middle Township, all of which host a food bank mobile pantry one day per month for two to three hours.
Food bank officials said they have a list of 107 families, including 72 children, in Ventnor who visit mobile and regular food pantries. Ventnor and Margate residents enrolled in state assistance programs must now travel to Somers Point to attend a mobile pantry.
“I’m confident that we can work with the neighbors and the mobile pantry to get this done, whether it’s at Ski Beach or another location in the city,” Commissioner Lance Landgraf said. “I think at Ski Beach it can work if it’s done correctly.”
Each year the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s mobile food pantries deliver more than 1 mi…
City officials said residents around the VFW previously complained that pantry clients were knocking on their doors, asking to use their bathrooms or sitting on their steps. Food bank officials said they did not receive those complaints while the mobile pantry stopped in Ventnor.
Mayor Beth Holtzman told The Press of Atlantic City in December she understood the need for the mobile food pantry but wanted to find a way to balance it with residents’ concerns.
Several people speaking during a commission meeting Friday suggested a better spot for the mobile pantry would be at the Ventnor Public Library, but city officials said the parking lot at the library is too small for the truck that distributes the food.
The Ventnor mobile pantry will be canceled for an eighth consecutive month if the commission does not pass a resolution to allow the pantry to set up at Ski Beach.
Peter Kleiner, former president of the Crown Key Condominium Association, said during Friday’s meeting that condo owners at Crown Key were against the move.
Diane Birkbeck, a food bank mobile pantry volunteer who attended the commissioner meeting, said the mobile pantry would be set up on Ski Beach for three hours a month.
“We are talking about a public park, and it is for the use of anyone in our community,” she said.
Food bank and city officials have been discussing the relocation and reinstatement of the mobile pantry for months.
“Now it seems almost like everyone is asking that question of what do I pay or how do we eat this week or how do I make this stretch,” Smith said in December at a Somers Point mobile pantry. “It’s something very prominent, and we’re trying to help as much as possible.”