BRIGANTINE — Regina Herz and Jim Walker spent their careers in the public sectors of the state and federal governments, respectively, and since retiring, both have become actively involved in serving the public through charitable and philanthropic endeavors.
Walker worked in the Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard, and spent his childhood summers in the Gardner's Basin section of Atlantic City before moving full time to Brigantine. He now serves as chairman of the Member Care Committee of Brigantine Community Presbyterian Church, which provides fellowship and care for congregation members in need, and works in close tandem with the True Spirit Coalition.
Herz, whose career was with the N.J. Division of Pensions and Benefits, is the primary coordinator of the True Spirit Coalition, having taken over that role about six years ago when Linda Simpson, wife of Brigantine Mayor Andy Simpson, could no longer continue due to health issues.
Since its 1992 founding, the True Spirit Coalition has operated under the basic premise of “assisting those in need in a confidential manner, regardless of circumstances.” It achieves this year-round, and with the help of dozens of civic groups and religious organizations, branches of city services, businesses and individual volunteers. It is particularly busy working to ensure less fortunate members of the Brigantine community receive turkey dinners and hot meals around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
The TSC also distributes staple groceries through its food pantry every Wednesday to anyone who signs up for membership — in a confidential manner and with no questions asked — with each member entitled to visit the pantry one Wednesday per month.
“The True Spirit Coalition is nondenominational; it just so happens to be run out of Community Presbyterian,” Herz said. “A lot of the volunteers are from several different organizations and help us financially, through donating goods, or by doing a lot of the legwork that helps keep it going. It's an island thing, not a church thing.
“Many of our island's year-round residents are elderly and on fixed, limited incomes, including about 27 who are home-bound that we help through (Atlantic County's) Meals On Wheels program,” she said. “We work closely with the Catholic Church on that, and luckily there seems to be a new group of people we're getting on the island who are newly retired and fairly young. A lot of them are still in their 60s, they're still really active and really want to help. So that's worked out very well for us.”
Sometimes, Walker said, the hardest part of the TSC and Community Presbyterian's Member Care Committee is merely identifying those members in the community who are in need of assistance.
“It's strange that in this day and age, people are often very reluctant to admit that they need help and ask for it,” Walker said. “Many were heads of households or caregivers in their younger lives, and they're attitude is 'I'm supposed to be doing this, not needing it.' Trying to get some to admit that they need help, or know someone who could use a little assistance, has been very challenging.”
Walker is still quite spry for an octogenarian, and has a lot of admiration for Herz's energy and organizational skills.
“I was a government bureaucrat for 35 years at the Navy Yard in Philly, and I thought I was pretty good at it, but this women is great,” said Walker, 81. “I mean, if she wanted to, she could put together a consulting firm and make a ton of money. She really is that good.”
The True Spirit Coalition's food pantry is accepting donations of frozen turkey breasts and small turkeys through Dec. 16, to be given out around Thanksgiving and Christmas. They can be dropped off Monday through Thursday at Community Presbyterian Church, 1501 Brigantine Ave.
The food pantry also accepts canned goods and nonperishables at all times, along with personal hygiene items for men and women, cleaning supplies and brown-paper or plastic bags for packaging.
The TSC gets year-round support from Brigantine's Chamber of Commerce, Cultural Arts Commission, Community School, Elks Lodge 2428, VFW Post 6964, American Legion Post 396, Lions Club, Firefighters 2657, PBA 204, Temple Beth Shalom Synagogue, St. Thomas Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus 7020, and dozens of local businesses and individuals.
The TSC also works closely with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program during the holidays, and helps raise money for the less fortunate by selling items such as gently used clothing, appliances, books and household accessories in good condition through Community Presbyterian Church's thrift store.