By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
One woman was overwhelmed with emotion as she carried a Thanksgiving dinner to her car, saying through her tears, “I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Other people hesitated when they were asked whether they had enough food in the refrigerator to feed their families.
These were the somber stories that Pastor Melissa Doyle-Waid recounted about some of the people who stopped in for a free Thanksgiving meal at the United Methodist Church’s food bank in Sea Isle City.
Normally, about 10 turkey meals are given out by the food bank for Thanksgiving, but the number jumped to 33 this year amid the economic hardships that have gone hand-in-hand with the health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Doyle-Waid pointed out.
“We have people who are underemployed or unemployed and they just can’t do it. They are tight,” she noted of families trying to keep food on the table.
United Methodist collaborated with the VFW Post 1963 Auxiliary, Heritage Surf & Sport Shop and the Monday Mahjong Ladies Club for donations of food, cash and gift cards to provide Thanksgiving meals for people in need. Donations were also made by local residents.
“We would not be able to do what we do without the help of the community. They have been wonderful. They are amazing,” Doyle-Waid said.
The pantry at United Methodist Church is part of the Cape May County food bank network, so it serves people throughout the county, not just in Sea Isle. A room inside the church at 4102 Central Ave. has been converted into a pantry offering free food.
Each Thanksgiving dinner given out at the church’s food pantry was enough to feed a family of five, meaning that more than 150 people had something to eat for the holiday because of the 33 meals that were donated.
Although Sea Isle and other neighboring beach resorts are known as vacation havens crowded with multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes, there are pockets of poverty in the county.
The coronavirus pandemic has compounded the crisis by robbing workers in the county’s service-based economy – hotels, bars, restaurants and the like – of their seasonal jobs in the tourism industry.
Doyle-Waid said local groups and residents have stepped in to help fill the void through generous donations of food, money and gift cards.
“We have really been blessed,” she said of the outpouring of community support.
Members of the VFW Post 1963 Auxiliary in Sea Isle and their friends donated more than $1,000 in gift cards to the church food bank, as well as meals.
“I can’t imagine our neighbors, people living around us, not having food, so those are the people to help,” said Patti Lloyd, president of the Auxiliary. “We saw the need and decided to help out.”
Doyle-Waid said Heritage Surf & Sport Shop in Sea Isle gave the church’s food bank a $5,000 donation to pay for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
The Monday Mahjong Ladies Club, a group of civic-minded women from Sea Isle, Ocean City, Strathmere and other neighboring towns, contributed food baskets and money.
Thanksgiving meals included turkey or ham, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, corn and other food. People also received two pounds of pasta, peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese to help feed them through the coming week.
Doyle-Waid is encouraging people who need food to reach out to the United Methodist Church pantry. They may call the church at (609) 263-3353 or visit its Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/UnitedMethodistChurchOfSeaIsleCity/.
Although more than 150 people were fed on Thanksgiving Day because of the food bank, Doyle-Waid noted that the pantry will need to be replenished after the holiday.
“I have to go to the food store,” she said.
Cash donations made by the community have helped the food bank immensely to restock its shelves, she said.
“I can’t say enough about the community,” Doyle-Waid said. “Our church and community have come together.”