By MADDY VITALE
Regina Ralston went aisle by aisle looking to see what foods are needed to fill the shelves at the Ecumenical Council of Ocean City’s Food Cupboard.
The Ecumenical Council of Ocean City is a faith-based organization made up of members whose mission it is to help feed and clothe those in need. Among other organizations, the Ecumenical Council partners with the city of Ocean City.
Tucked inside St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, the Food Cupboard, run completely by volunteers and through donations from the community, has helped thousands of families and individuals who live in Ocean City.
Whether someone needs a little help for a day, month, a year, or always, Ralston, the Food Cupboard coordinator, said the food will certainly be provided.
A lot has changed over the past two years, Ralston noted in an interview Wednesday.
A year ago, after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said the Food Cupboard “barely saw anyone come through the door for assistance.”
And what she is noticing is sad and alarming.
“This past month alone we have helped 99 adults. The number dropped for a while. But it is definitely back up,” she explained. “I have seen people who used to come in, but who I haven’t seen in years. I think more people are coming in because the food prices are so high, people just can’t afford it.”
Cereals, peanut butter, soups, pasta, sauces, canned veggies, juice drinks, and other staples and toiletries were either on the shelves or in shopping cards ready for people to come in and pick them up.
In addition, frozen dinners, loaves of bread and blocks of cheese are also added to some of the bags.
“Some of the seniors like the frozen dinners,” Ralston said of the ease of microwavable meals.
The Food Cupboard services senior affordable housing complexes in town, including Bayview Manor, Speitel Commons and Wesley by the Bay. Residents of those buildings automatically qualify because they are on assistance, Ralston said.
In addition to helping people in Ocean City, the Food Cupboard gives food and other items to food pantries and other organizations in Cape May County.
“If there is something extra, we will surely give it to another organization,” Ralston said.
Sea Isle City Methodist Church Pastor Melissa Waid is one person that Ralston almost called last year when the Ecumenical Council’s Food Cupboard was overflowing.
Pastor Waid also runs a successful and well-known food pantry to help those in need in Sea Isle and the surrounding community.
“I was going to contact was Pastor Melissa Waid,” Ralston reflected. “We have a lot of stuff, so let’s give it where we can. If she ever needed anything all she would have to do is reach out and we would share, as I know she would.”
All of the foods that continue to help feed those who need it most, would not be possible without donations, Ralston emphasized.
“I have to tell you, people of Ocean City are extremely generous,” Ralston said.
She also praised the 50 dedicated volunteers who help run the Food Cupboard.
“It takes a team to make the program run smoothly,” she said. “And we have a good team.”
The volunteers do the shopping. They fill the shopping bags and deliver to the homebound.
The Food Cupboard also helps J1 Visa students working in the resort over the summer months.
Like more families and individuals, there are also more foreign students who have come in over the summer.
The students come to the United States each summer to find jobs under the State Department’s J1 Summer Work visa program.
They work in the community for the summer and with the high food prices they too needed more help than in prior years, Ralston added.
Ralston pushed a shopping cart filled with bags stuffed with food, toiletries and juices.
One of the shopping bags that was prepared for a J1 student held mac and cheese, juice boxes, peanut butter cookies, cereal, bread, a pound of cheese and soups.
“They are so sweet and thankful,” Ralston said of the students. “They are very nice when they come in.”
For information on the Food Cupboard and hours of operation call 609-398-3191 or visit www.ocecnj.org