The people arrive early each Friday, some by car but many on foot, toting cardboard boxes and canvas bags.
They quietly form a line as volunteers set up the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s Mobile Food Pantry in the parking lot of Chispanic Enterprises in Egg Harbor City.
“I have to budget what I get, and I couldn’t get by without this,” said Evangeline Taclan, holding a cardboard box over her head to shield herself from the sun.
Every few weeks, when the shelves grow bare, Taclan, of the Farmington section of Egg Harbor Township, said she and her 84-year-old mother, Gina, head out to the mobile pantry.
“It’s bad,” said Taclan, 57. “Where I live, I cannot afford my mortgage. I have a job, but it’s not enough money.”
With demand for food assistance growing in South Jersey, the FoodBank’s EHT-based Southern Branch is expanding its services through the use of mobile pantries. And while the need has grown steadily, officials say donations have declined.
“These are difficult times,” Executive Director Margie Barham said. “We are finding that many who used to donate to the FoodBank are now seeking help from pantries.”
Although demand is increasing across the county — last year, the nonprofit distributed a record 7.1 million pounds of groceries — Barham said the food bank has focused its limited resources on places where existing food pantries are overtaxed.
In October, the food bank distributed bread and produce in Egg Harbor City, gradually expanding to include other foods. This fall, its mobile pantry will begin providing the same service on a monthly basis in Galloway Township.
“We’ve looked around to see where there might be a hole to fill, and we get inquiries from the community,” Barham said. “In Galloway, we saw they did not have many pantries in place.”
Local charities say they welcome the additional service.
One of Galloway’s few pantries, The Hope Chest, based out of Beacon Evangelical Free Church, serves about 50 clients each week.
“It’s a great supplement to what we’re doing here,” church administrator Donna DiRenzo said. “We include the surrounding area, but it sounds like they’re going to target just Galloway.”
Bill Miles, president of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, which operates a pantry out of the Church of the Assumption, said the number of clients has decreased since the church moved from its original location on the White Horse Pike to Pitney Road a few years ago.
“I don’t know that we’ve been that much busier, but around the holidays, we get hit pretty good,” Miles said. The more resources that are available, especially at the end of the year, the better, he said.
Danielle Provenzano, the program’s assistant for the EHC mobile pantry, said the initiative has grown steadily since it started.
“The first week, nobody really knew we were out here,” she said. “Then more and more people came out, because of word of mouth.”
Having a pantry on wheels is important, Provenzano said, because some clients do not have transportation to the food bank’s main headquarters at the Shore Mall.
Although she got a ride Friday from her daughter, who was visiting from Ohio, Bernice Janiszewski, 85, of Egg Harbor City, usually walks to the mobile food pantry.
Before it came to her neighborhood, Janiszewski said she was “doing without.”
“I’m on Social Security, and there’s a grocery store in town, but that doesn’t help” when money is sparse, she said. “All of this stuff comes in handy.”
Provenzano said the mobile pantry, based out of a refrigerated truck, distributes canned foods, eggs, grains and stable milk, and is supplied primarily by the state and federal sources.
“We try to give them a better variety of foods, because we know we can’t always count on produce and bread donations,” she said.
Although the summer is typically a lean time for donations, this summer has been leaner than most. Barham said food donations between June 1 and July 31 were down 8 percent compared with last year.
“Overall, throughout the year we’ve seen a decrease in donations from food drives in the Southern Branch, which has been trending downwards for the past few years,” she said.
While the push for donations isn’t new — “People eat year-round,” Barham said — this summer, the food bank is soliciting donations of baby formula, diapers and proteins, such as peanut butter or tuna fish.
“They’re more expensive, so when people do make contributions, they tend to not get included,” she said. “But tuna fish is not so expensive.”
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