Bette Keller, of Sea Isle, center, with other St. Joseph Church members during the January food drive. (Photos courtesy of Katherine Custer)


St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sea Isle City did not let the COVID-19 pandemic get in the way of giving to those who need it most.

Last month, the church-affiliated Catholic Daughters organized a peanut butter and jelly drive. The food collection was so successful that people donated hundreds of jars of the staples and loaves of bread. The items were delivered to Branches, an outreach center of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Stone Harbor that provides food to those who need it in Cape May County.

For March, the Catholic Daughters are adding new items to the food drive.

“We gathered things they asked for in the past. We wanted to give people a variety. There are roughly 80 children living in motels in the county who are considered homeless,” said Bette Keller, the organizer of the food drive at St. Joseph Church. “We wanted to give them cereal and cookies and other things kids like besides peanut butter and jelly.”

At the Branches in Rio Grande, food donations fill the tables and shelves. (Photo courtesy of Branches)

On March 4, at 3 p.m., people may drop off food items at the St. Joseph auditorium parking lot. Food collections will continue at 3 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month.

The menu has graduated from peanut butter and jelly and loaves of bread to other foods that Branches, located in Rio Grande, asked for on its Facebook page to give to those in need.

“We are hoping for the same success as the peanut butter and jelly drive,” Keller noted of the upcoming food drive.

Specifically, people are asked to donate cereal, cartons of milk (non-refrigerated), spaghetti sauce (plastic jars preferred), juice, juice boxes, cookies, crackers, tuna fish, hot dogs and rolls, hamburger helper, bread, microwavable meals (not frozen), and other non-perishable items.

During the January peanut butter and jelly food collection, Keller said there was a “stream of people who drove up in the parking lot to drop off donations.”

She and the other volunteers hope for the same outpouring of support on March 4.

Keller added that it is rewarding to give to those who are struggling. It could mean the difference between people going hungry or not.

Her husband, Bill Keller, who helps out during the food drives, often fills his car with donations to take to the Branches.

He noted that the community coming together is another important facet of the food collections.

“The real positive thing about this is the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a social event in Sea Isle,” he emphasized.

Bette and Bill Keller, of Sea Isle, with loaves of bread during the peanut butter and jelly food drive.

Prior to the pandemic, church members and other volunteers would make sandwiches to deliver to Branches.

Due to the gathering restrictions during the pandemic, the drive had to be modified to the way it is run now, with donations being dropped off.

But the rewards are great, Bill Keller pointed out.

“This event is an asset to the people of our church and the community,” he said. “It creates excitement and it gives us quality of life because we help others. That is what makes it so special.”

In April, Bette Keller said there may be something new in store for the food drive.

The details still need to be finalized, but she offered a hint at what may come.

“It will be something Easter-themed,” she said.

On the Branches Facebook page, the organization’s members summed up in a Feb. 1 post what the work of the volunteers, including St. Joseph Church, mean to them.

We are so grateful to everyone who keeps us well supplied especially during the cold weather. Catholic Daughters of Saint Joseph’s, many thanks for checking our Facebook page and dropping off just what we needed.”

The post continued, “Thank you St. Joseph’s, Our Lady of the Angels, Our Savior Lutheran and St. Peter’s in Ocean City for being our faithful partners in caring for those in need. We are blessed by such a caring faith community. Thank you everyone from the bottom of our collective hearts for your faithful support of our mission at Branches.”  

Sea Isle resident Ron Custer, property manager at St. Joseph Church, displays jars of peanut butter and jelly.