Each year the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s mobile food pantries deliver more than 1 million pounds of food to residents in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.
But in Ventnor the mobile food bank has been on hiatus for months. For a while, it was held in the parking lot of the VFW on Dorset Avenue. More than 120 residents, including the elderly and families, came out to get access to food they might otherwise struggle to buy on their own.
The pantry was shut down, however, after residents complained some visitors to the pantry were knocking on their doors, asking to use their bathrooms or sitting on their steps, Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman said.
Richard Uniacke, vice president of the Southern Branch of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, said the food bank is working with the city to find a site. But the two sides haven’t been able to work out a satisfactory location.
“We’ve seen an increased need in Ventnor since the closing of the Taj,” he said.
Food insecurity is a rampant problem in South Jersey. All four counties in The Press’ coverage area have the highest rates in the state of children who lack access to healthy and nutritious foods. That’s more than 50,000 children.
Luci Hertell, 62, saw the Ventnor pantry as a key supplement to her fixed budget.
The pantry was just a short walk from her apartment and when she went, she liked what she saw. There were over 120 people in attendance but the Food Bank’s staff handled everything professionally, she said.
“I was pleased with how it was conducted with dignity and compassion,” she wrote in an email.
When the Ventnor pantry stopped, she began going to the Somers Point one. That required taking a bus, transferring and then walking 15 minutes to the site with her black pushcart. On the way home, other bus passengers grumbled and complained about her cart taking up aisle space.
She stopped going in October. Her food budget has been tight since then.
The city has looked at possibly placing the pantry by its softball fields. But no permanent spot has been identified yet.
Holtzman said she understands the need for the mobile food bank but wants to find a way to balance it with the residents’ concerns.
“We’re trying to find a site,” she said. “We don’t want to not be involved; we know there are residents in Ventnor that need it.”