As unemployment, hunger, financial distress, and fear have spread rapidly through our community, just like the coronavirus causing much of it, several dozen food distribution centers here have dramatically expanded their reach to provide the portion of relief that comes with a portion of food.
With a notable public social services agency/public school partnership, the Salvation Army Vineland Corps and Compass Academy Charter School (CACS) have joined forces to help feed more than 500 in-need families weekly in a significant relief effort.
CACS has held a summer feeding program at the school for students, families, and community members for several years, and has helped the Salvation Army in the past, so its leadership team saw this joint effort as a natural extension for the school’s food service operation, while it also scaled up the standard summer meal distribution.
“Our kitchen operation is small, but we produced 1,080 meals just for our school program in the first three weeks of summer because we have a smooth, productive enterprise,” said Joel Johnston, lead founder for the school. “Sustaining families is an essential component of CACS, whether it’s giving them sustenance or a high-quality education.”
In addition to embracing the new partnership, the Salvation Army, under the direction of Majors Moises and Jacqueline Rivera, has expanded all areas of its time-honored, Christ-centered mission to feed and support those who need it.
“Before the pandemic, we were seeing 20 or 30 families, now it’s well over 100 every day, four times a week,” said caseworker Aubrie Bonestell.
The cars begin lining up 45 minutes before the food bank opens and move through for several hours. A large contingent of employees and volunteers uses a contactless system to fill the open trunks with produce, fruit, drinks, and non-perishables paid for or donated directly by individuals, families, businesses, and retail food stores.
“There are so many caring people out there, I can’t say enough about them or sufficiently thank them for what they do,” said Bonestell.
Food is distributed each day to any family with a form of identification. A few local cold storage firms help with the logistics of this undertaking. Fresh food from supermarkets is picked up every morning by Salvation Army trucks. Canned and boxed goods on dozens of pallets are stored on site until needed.
It’s tiring and hot, both at the distribution tables and in the long car lines. Some relief for the clients comes in the form of the 100 daily ready-to-eat bag lunches from CACS for every child in the family that he or she can eat immediately or be anticipating when the food stock arrives at home.
There clearly would be little or no food distribution at Salvation Army if it weren’t for volunteers who sort, box, and carry hundreds of pounds of items, often in the rain or searing heat waves.
“Obviously, it takes a special person to do this,” said Bonestell. “But it’s uplifting, you’re helping people in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, what better inspiration could there be?”
If you would like to volunteer at the Salvation Army food distribution center for a few hours or make a donation of food or money, call Aubrie Bonestell at 856-696-5050.
This article is made possible by a grant from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University
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