LONG BRANCH, NJ — At Patch, we partnered with Ring doorbell security to find local heroes, people who are not thinking of themselves and simply trying to help others during the COVID crisis.
A reader nominated Donna Cetrulo, a volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul Society of Christ the King parish in Long Branch. Donna runs the food pantry for St. Vincent de Paul Society.
The economic fall-out from COVID — plus governors shutting down businesses — has resulted in a massive increase in the number of people needing help putting food on the table.
“We hit a high-water mark of 260 families in May, and since then our numbers have averaged about 180 families each Wednesday,” said Cetrulo. “It takes many people to keep the pantry stocked and ready to serve families in need. I do not know a more dedicated, harder-working group. It is they who deserves the recognition.”
Theresa and Ed Burke, along with Jo Button and others opened the St. Vincent de Paul Society pantry in about 2004.
Prior to March, they were feeding about 85 families each week. Once COVID and the recession hit, that number went up to 260 families a week, and is still at 180 families each week.
“When the Long Branch schools began offering ‘grab and go’ lunches from Holy Trinity, I asked Father Javier and Frank Muzzi, our business administrator, if we might do the same thing with our pantry,” said Cetrulo. “We opened in the parking lot of Holy Trinity Church as a ‘grab and go’ pantry, serving 69 families on March 25. Bags were set out on tables and each family parked in the lot, walked or brought their rolling cart to pick up what we gave each week. On May 13 we served 260 families. Since each family received two bags, it meant making up 520 bags.”
“Many groups and individuals have helped us during this time,” she continued. “Jean McKinney from RWJ/BHS helped with many projects and linked us to other groups. Michelle Dee from Jersey Cares linked us to Common Market, a five-month supply of fresh produce each week. Rotary Club of Greater Long Brach and Brazilian Help Center provided financial help and food donations. NFL alumni and Long Branch PBA also provided financial help and food donations. Civic organizations and private individuals sent checks and tons of food. Two master gardeners donated their spring/summer harvest to our pantry. St. Anselm’s Church in Wayside made hygiene kits to distribute. Several grants have allowed us to purchase a new commercial freezer and supplement the food received from Fulfill.”
The food pantry currently gives out food from the gym at the former Holy Trinity School on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were extremely fortunate to have Chris Dalton, Ken Orechio, Tom DiClemente, Wayne Emley, Bob Juliano, Phil Hinck, Rick Harrison and Joan Wengland step in to help in the pantry. Since March they have worked to keep the pantry going. We also rely on a group of bagging volunteers (Mary Ann McKenzie, Dr. Tracy Tomaino, Dee DeMaria, Rae Marsico, Janice, Haraz, Robert and Dawn Lehman) each week. Without these groups, the pantry would not exist.”
Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help raise awareness on behalf of the millions of Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that in 2020, more than 54 million Americans will not have enough nutritious food to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is a Patch social good project; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. Find out how you can donate in your community or find a food pantry near you.
This article originally appeared on the Long Branch-Eatontown Patch