BRIDGETON — The comforting smell of a warm breakfast wafted through the window between the kitchen and the cafeteria Friday at the Salvation Army as men and women, bundled in layers of clothing and coats against the frigid morning, made their way into the center.
Donald Hunt, 52, of Bridgeton, a part-time painter, picked up a sandwich and a couple pastries before carrying on with his day.
“It’s a place where you can come and get something and no one judges you,” he said. “They never made me feel obligated or hopeless.”
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Hunt explained that even though he has part-time work now, he’s homeless sometimes. He picks up breakfast from the center several times a week.
The Drop-In Breakfast program at the Bridgeton Center for Worship & Service on West Commerce Street welcomes anyone in need to sit and enjoy a hot breakfast sandwich, pastry and coffee every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Or, if they prefer, they’re free to take what they need and leave.
It’s a no-questions-asked program providing the most important meal of the day to the people who need it most.
Cumberland County is hard hit by poverty and homelessness, but Bridgeton’s situation is made even more dire by a lack of access to food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists the city as a food desert, meaning 33 percent of the population, or a minimum of 500 people, have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.
Around the county, on the night of Jan. 24, 2017, a total of 151 people, in 134 households, were experiencing homelessness, according to the 2017 Point-In-Time Count completed by Monarch Housing Associates. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.4 percent of Cumberland County’s 153,797 residents live in poverty.
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The Salvation Army is the only organization in the area that hosts a free breakfast program for homeless and low-income families, said Alexandria Hammond, community relations manager. On average, they serve 150 people per week.
Lt. Sergo Lalanne, the commanding officer, said the program “is a great service where we’re meeting a food need of the community.”
Lalanne explained that the majority of their clients are single men and women. Having a warm place to sit and enjoy a hot breakfast, he said, “is very crucial,” especially in the winter.
All the food is donated, as well as the labor to make the program happen.
“We rely on our volunteers to complete our mission of doing the most good in Jesus’ name,” Lalanne said.
Lt. Edelyne Lalanne, Sergo’s wife, picks up about 200 sandwiches a week from Wawa, while a local business, Terrigno’s Bakery, supplies the pastries.
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One of the volunteers in the kitchen, Alberta Frazier, 74, of Bridgeton, has been working with the Salvation Army for almost half a decade. She volunteers about five hours a day, five days and week preparing and packaging sandwiches and other food for the breakfast program.
“I like helping people,” she said. “It’s just rewarding. That’s what the good Lord wants us to do — help others. That’s what I’m going to do.”