Community volunteers stand in front of Thanksgiving food baskets ready for pickup at United Methodist Church in Sea Isle City. (Photo courtesy of United Methodist Church)


Pastor Melissa Doyle-Waid sensed that one woman who stopped at United Methodist Church to pick up a free food basket for Thanksgiving dinner needed more help than she was willing to disclose.

“She was overwhelmed,” Doyle-Waid recalled. “I said, ‘Do you have enough regular food?’”

The woman hesitated to answer and it became clear that just one basket of food wasn’t enough. Doyle-Waid then went back to the church’s food pantry and filled up a bag of meat for the woman and her family.

As Thanksgiving arrives, it is clear that not everyone will be able to celebrate the holiday in the traditional manner – with plenty of food on the table to share with family and friends.

However, United Methodist Church in Sea Isle City is once again teaming up with local organizations, businesses and private donors on Thanksgiving in a communitywide effort to distribute free turkeys, food baskets and gift cards for families in need.

“I’m so proud to be part of this community,” Doyle-Waid said. “Everybody joined together when they heard there was a need. Everyone stepped up.”

Although Sea Isle and other neighboring beach resorts are known as vacation havens crowded with multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes, there are pockets of poverty scattered throughout Cape May County.

Rising food costs during the coronavirus pandemic have compounded the economic hardships by making it even more difficult for working people and others to pay their grocery bills, Doyle-Waid pointed out.

“Our economy is in a crazy place. People are struggling. We have the working poor,” she said. “Most of the people who come here for food are killing themselves to make ends meet.”

United Methodist Church Pastor Melissa Doyle-Waid displays some of the donated Thanksgiving food from the community.

United Methodist Church’s community food pantry is also feeling the pressure of higher food prices. The last time Doyle-Waid went shopping to replenish the pantry, the bill came to about $1,800 for seven carts of groceries – compared to about $1,200 to $1,400 for the same amount of food last year.

“If your food budget is usually $100, now it’s about $150 to $200, so that’s forcing people into food insecurity,” Doyle-Waid said.

She expressed her gratitude to the local community for an outpouring of support and all of the donations to the food pantry, not only at Thanksgiving, but year-round.

“I’m blown away by the giving hearts of the people in this community,” she 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.

This year, about 30 free food baskets have been distributed by the pantry for Thanksgiving using donations from community groups, businesses and private donors. St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sea Isle pitched in with a donation of 13 turkeys.

Doyle-Waid said Heritage Surf & Sport Shop in Sea Isle gave the food bank a $5,000 donation to pay for holiday meals. Heritage donated the same amount last year, too.

“When it was $5,000 again, I almost fell down,” Doyle-Waid said. “That was so amazing, so generous.”

Members of the VFW Post 1963 Auxiliary in Sea Isle donated food and $875 in gift cards.

The Mahjong Ladies Club, a group of civic-minded women from Sea Isle, Ocean City, Strathmere and other neighboring towns, contributed food and $600 in cash for Thanksgiving. The club also makes regular donations to the food bank twice a month, Doyle-Waid said.

A sign in front of United Methodist Church invites food donations.

In addition, local businesses Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach Realtors, RE/MAX Preferred real estate and Dalrymple’s Card & Gift Shoppe contributed food or gift cards for Thanksgiving.

Doyle-Waid noted that donations were also made by private individuals.

She also extended her thanks to United Methodist Church members Terry and Peg Moore, of Sea Isle, for keeping the food panty neat amid the busy holiday season.

A combination refrigerator/freezer donated earlier this year by Girl Scout Troop 41012 in Sea Isle was of great help storing Thanksgiving meals, Doyle-Waid said.

Next up, the church’s food pantry will be getting ready to distribute free meals at Christmas for families in need.

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: