When the Burlington Township Food Pantry was forced to leave its location at the Burlington Center in 2017, the community outreach group had no official place to call “home” until now.
The food pantry can now call its location at 1200 N. Route 130 its permanent home.
The new address is the result of a donation on Oct. 23 from the Burlington Stores office headquarters, which is located just down the road.
Burlington Township patrons, municipal and state officials, food pantry staff members, and Burlington Stores employees were in attendance at the location for a “Passing of the Key” ceremony to celebrate the installment of the new space.
With more than 20,000 sq. ft. of building space along with bathrooms, a kitchen, storage, and refrigeration, Burlington Township Food Pantry Executive Board member Mickey Foltiny expressed his content with the pantry’s location at the Oct. 23 event.
Foltiny said the donated building is anticipated to become a vital part of the Burlington Township community.
“We didn’t have a home,” Foltiny said. “When we moved from the mall to here, we had about 30,000 pounds worth of product. Not knowing if you’re going to be able to service the people in your community because you don’t have a place to work out of with a lot of people that have everyday difficulties – they rely on this.”
Officials from the food pantry and Burlington Stores said the decision to donate the Route 130 location to the local outreach organization was initiated between Burlington Township Food Pantry Director, Domenic Zulla, and Executive Vice President of Store Development for Burlington Stores, Gayle Aertker.
When the food pantry was kicked out of the Burlington mall, Zulla had reached out to the Burlington Stores headquarters for help in search of a new location. Although Burlington Stores initially agreed to let the food pantry use limited space at the Route 130 building for a while, an eventual decision to allow the local group use of the whole facility was made.
Aertker said that Burlington Stores had owned the building on Route 130 since 1983, which had housed multiple businesses such as a car dealership and floral shop. Aertker explained that when she learned that in March of last year that the Burlington Township Food Pantry was without a permanent location, something had to be done to help out the local group.
“We had worked with [the food pantry] for several years, and we had a building here that was vacant, so we said, ‘We can help you,’” Aertker said. “We donated this space to them rent-free and helped them to try and get it organized, so it could operate for the community.”
According to the Burlington Stores employee, the decision to donate the space to the food pantry was just another effort to lend a hand to their community partners.
“We have been supporting them ever since,” Aertker explained. “We also use our employees for a lot of volunteer work. Each employee is allowed one day for giving toward charitable organizations, and the Burlington Township Food Pantry is one of them, so we have all been here.
“We have helped them take in food and get organized, so we have had a close relationship with the food pantry. We then decided that they like this home, and it was good deed to donate this facility to them,” Aertker added.
Prior to the October event when the key was passed to the food pantry, state officials such as Assemblywoman Carol A. Murphy (D-Burlington) along with Burlington Township municipal officials were in attendance for the commencement activities.
Burlington Township Mayor Brian Carlin who attended said that the deal between the two groups served a significant purpose to the community especially given the municipality’s occasional assistance with the food pantry.
Carlin explained that the municipality does its best to support the pantry with efforts such as council members and police officers who have helped come out and unload trucks.
“It’s something that we support, but allow them to do what they do really well,” Carlin said. “It’s important because it’s something that when people are down on their luck, they can come here and are provided with food and necessities to give them the ability and dignity to get back up on their feet.
“When they do, all of the sudden, they start to come back and volunteer. There’s a cycle here. Once you have been through it and get out, it cycles and they give back,” Carlin said.
For Zulla, a director and member of the food pantry for approximately a decade, the donated space serves as a promise of longevity for the local group to continue their services.
“The best part is now we have a home,” Zulla said. “We have a permanent fixture here in Burlington Township and we are not leaving. We are here to stay.”