Bags of Hope

Help and Hope Missions has been called upon to up their game of feeding those in need—and the team has answered that call.

by Mickey Brandt
Photography by Mickey Brandt
Walt Pettit carts the bags to vehicles for delivery.

Chuck Brett of Millville and his mostly volunteer team are in the staples business. The staples they deliver twice each week include bread, milk, fruit, cereal, soup, pasta, sauces, and canned vegetables.

The mission of the Help and Hope Missions food bank is feeding the needy, and lately there are a lot more people in that category. It’s an all-out door-to-door effort.

“We’re just getting people, you know, they’re unemployed, they’ve got no income, and they’re panicking and they need food,” said Brett, the executive director. “We’re not just reserved for clients who we’ve served before because the need has expanded.”

With logistics and work effort rivaling any small business, the non-profit organization solicits, collects, tracks, sorts, warehouses, and packs tons of food. Every Tuesday and Thursday, it all ends up in brown paper grocery bags loaded into the personal cars, trucks and vans of a dozen delivery drivers and helpers.

That’s when the fun starts. Following GPS-aided routes with the latest existing and new client lists, they bring the food lifeline to doorstep destinations. It’s just like Uber Eats, but it means so much more.

Help and Hope Missions Inc. was started by the Greater Millville Ministerial Association in 1993 as a community-wide ecumenical organization committed to programs in Millville and surrounding areas to meet basic human needs. It now provide food to those who meet the federal financial guidelines and have the need.

“We have a lot of individual contact with people as they struggle in their lives,” Brett said. “And we try to do our best by every one of them.”

The group is supported by many of the churches in the community, both financially and with food donations. Other help comes in the form of food and cash donations from community members who wish to make a difference and grants from the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners Human Services Advisory Council, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, a City of Millville Community Development Block Grant, and ShopRite Partners in Caring.

Main Street Market, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey-South Jersey Food Pantry, and Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church are essential and generous partners.

The food pantry delivers a large order every month, some paid for by grants and donations. Help and Hope depends on Lou Fisher’s Main Street Market in Millville in the same way.

In 2021, Help and Hope provided food to more than 8,000 families, which included 20,000 adults and children. Just in January this year, it delivered food to 1,700 people.

The large and growing volunteer staff includes men and women, young and older. Brett is 79. Sam Herdman, 73, is the organization’s “landlord”—he operates West Side United Methodist Church where the food bank is housed. Bagger Pat Pacitto is 93 and quick with a joke.

“I like to be busy and I like to help people,” Pacitto said.

Help and Hope maintains a whirlwind back office where Pam McNamee, Janyce Fenton, Shaun Connors, and other volunteers and part-time staff keep the books, track the grants and donations; schedule the deliveries, and keep client lists up to date.

“People get jobs and don’t need us at present; people move; new people qualify,” said Brett, “We need to keep careful records and these dedicated workers do it consistently.

“Almost nobody calls in sick here,” he added.

The rooms at Help and Hope are spacious, but busy and crowded. Drivers hasten back and forth while workers pack bags of food. Some rooms are just full of cans stacked 12 cases high.

Donated refrigerators and even a commercial freezer are used.

When they’re available, Help and Hope sends out treats for kids, eggs, meat products such as ground beef or chicken, eggs, and fresh produce. The crew even provides diapers for those who can prove the need with a child’s birth certificate. Altogether, each household gets three or four days worth of meals every week.

To its credit, Help and Hope was somehow able to scale up its food delivery by 100 percent since before the pandemic.

Brett seems like the force behind it. And, apparently, there’s a force behind him.

“My wife Judi knows I have to do it, do something I think is worthwhile, “ he said. “I can’t stay home and watch TV; this is a significant part of my whole life.” n

April is National Volunteer Month. To get involved, readers may call 856-293-4357 for Help and Hope, or e-mail info@helpandhopemillville.com.

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