By MADDY VITALE
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, so many volunteers who donated their time to the food drive at St. Joseph Catholic Church of Sea Isle City were unable to do what they enjoyed most — to give back to help those in need.
Their small act of kindness, providing a staple meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be delivered to a nearby church and then distributed to the homeless and those who live in motels, had to stop due to health and safety restrictions.
But Bette Keller, of Sea Isle, coordinator of the meal program for the last two years at St. Joseph Church, said she and other members of the parish needed to find another way to still help the people who need it the most, especially at a time when so many families are struggling.
“I went to Father Perry (Cherubini) and I told him we really missed making the sandwiches,” Keller said in an interview Friday. “It became a good way to socialize and a friendly competition for people of who could make the most sandwiches. It was a lot of fun.”
So, they came up with the next best thing, supplying the food items, the jars of peanut butter and jelly and loaves of bread, to Branches, an outreach facility in Rio Grande for those in need.
Branches, a mission and outreach center of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Stone Harbor, distributes the food items to the families they serve.
“Since we can’t make the sandwiches, we felt honored to be able to do something,” Keller emphasized. “This is a community that likes to give. That is how I like to describe Sea Isle City.”
And give they do.
For a trip on Thursday, Bette Keller and her husband, Bill, drove their two cars to Rio Grande filled with food donations, which also included cereal and paper goods.
“There were about 500 jars of peanut butter and 500 jars of jelly in my car,” said Bette Keller. “Bill had to put the top down to his Volkswagen Beetle because there were at least 500 loaves of bread in his car. We call Bill’s car the bread box.”
Prior to the pandemic, volunteers at St. Joseph Church would make about 400 to 500 sandwiches a month to be delivered to Our Lady of Angels in Cape May Court House and then handed out to local families.
With the donations they receive under the new program during the COVID-19 restrictions, Keller said the volunteers are able to supply enough peanut butter, jelly and bread to make more than 1,000 sandwiches.
“We are blessed to be able to do this,” Keller noted. “We just started out with St. Joe’s and now it has grown where people are not members of the church. That’s just Sea Isle. People are so generous.”
She added that people who work at Branches are so appreciative of the donations of food.
“Every month they are so overwhelmed by the support of Sea Isle City to help those in need,” Keller said.
On the Branches Facebook page, the organization’s members summed up in a Dec. 8 post what the work of the volunteers at St. Joseph Church and the donations from the entire Sea Isle community mean to them.
“The good folks from St. Joseph’s in Sea Isle have done it again! Bette brought a car full and we do mean a car full of peanut butter, jelly and bread to Branches last week. Thank you so much for your continued generous support of our mission.”
Anyone wishing to donate may go to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sea Isle City on the first Thursday of the month at 3 p.m. or call Bette and Bill Keller at (908) 337-9600.