By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Before the global coronavirus pandemic erupted, the food cupboard at the United Methodist Church in Sea Isle City would see an average of about four families each week.
“Now, we’re getting two or three families in a day,” Melissa Doyle-Waid, church pastor, said ominously.
As businesses have shut down, workers lose their jobs and money becomes tight, the importance of the food pantry has grown dramatically in Cape May County.
Doyle-Waid vowed that the pantry – helped by the community’s generosity – will continue to stay open during the coronavirus outbreak. And beyond.
“Absolutely,” she said. “The longer it goes, the worse it’s going to be in terms of people not being able to work and needing food.”
Donations of food or money are always needed. Local residents, businesses, civic organizations and other donors have been stepping up to help the church replenish the food cupboard as demand has increased, Doyle-Waid noted.
“People keep bringing things in. It’s amazing,” she said in an interview Sunday.
Doyle-Waid is often surprised to find bags of donated food lining the church hallways or on the steps when she returns from an outing. She said one woman graciously offered to buy food for the pantry while she was shopping at a grocery store. Others have donated money.
Demand for food is so high that there was only one day in the past two weeks when Doyle-Waid did not see someone stop into the pantry. Hurrying to restock the shelves, she goes to the grocery store every other day, she explained.
Other household staples are needed, too. The food cupboard also gives out such things as toilet paper, laundry detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, diapers and baby formula.
“A lot of young mothers are coming in now. They’re really struggling. It’s been hard,” Doyle-Waid said.
Although Sea Isle and other neighboring beach resorts are best known as vacation havens crowded with multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes, Doyle-Waid pointed out that there are pockets of poverty in the county.
The coronavirus shutdown 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.
“People such as food servers and bartenders are not making any money. They’re not getting their tips,” Doyle-Waid said.
She is worried that as the coronavirus crisis deepens, more and more people will lose their jobs and will no longer be able to donate food or money to the church pantry.
“That is the only way to keep doing what we’re doing – through donations,” she said. “Some of the people who have been giving the most are the small business owners. They are the ones who are being hurt the most.”
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.
The church formerly operated the food cupboard similar to a grocery store, allowing people to come inside to browse through the shelves and select the items they want.
Hoping to prevent the virus from spreading, Doyle-Waid has changed the procedure for food giveaways. Now she will pack the food in bags and leave the bags inside the church or on the steps for people to pick up.
“We’re trying to make sure people aren’t contaminating the food or getting things from each other,” she said. “We’re doing our best to make sure people are safe.”
The church encourages people to come to the food bank on its Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/UnitedMethodistChurchOfSeaIsleCity/
“We have food, please don’t struggle alone. We are called to come alongside of one another, particularly in difficult times,” one Facebook post from the church says.
Despite the challenges expected ahead, Doyle-Waid remains confident that the community will make it through the coronavirus outbreak stronger than ever.
“Sea Isle always rises to the occasion,” she said. “This is a community that always comes together to help each other.”
People may call (609) 231-4929 for more information about the United Methodist Church food bank or to arrange to stop in for food or make a donation. The church is located at 4102 Central Ave., overlooking the John F. Kennedy Boulevard entryway into Sea Isle City.