On March 14, Cherry Hill resident Chris Bruner took to a local Cherry Hill Facebook group with a simple offer: “If you or your family are having a difficult time buying groceries, please let me know.”
Since then, Bruner, who owns Cherry Hill-based construction company American Construction, and his employees have distributed food to more than 200 families across South Jersey. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put his construction business largely on hold, Bruner is paying his employees to pick up groceries and distribute them. The operation is entirely self-funded, and Bruner is refusing payment for groceries and donations from the public.
Bruner said the idea came about last Friday, March 13 when he began noticing a lot of panic on Facebook. At that moment, he and his wife Jessica decided that rather than just sit at home frightened, they were going to show the community that people need to come together during times of need and help one another.
So, on Saturday morning, he posted in a few Cherry Hill community Facebook pages and offered to buy groceries for Cherry Hill families who couldn’t afford food or who are at-risk and uncomfortable leaving their home. He encouraged families not to feel embarrassed and promised that they would maintain the anonymity of anyone who contacted them. That same day, he and his wife were out until midnight running to grocery stores for those who contacted them.
Bruner said he recognized that COVID-19 is going to slow down his business in the weeks to come, and he wanted to find a way to get his employees their 40 hours. So, he offered anyone who felt comfortable a choice to join in on their efforts and get paid to run errands for those in need.
The company’s trucks are being used for grocery transport, and Bruner’s Cherry Hill home has become an unofficial command center. The company is taking every precaution to ensure that they don’t spread the virus. Employees are wiping down all the supplies before dropping them off and placing groceries on porches or doorsteps while asking those they’re helping to stay in the house.
He said over the weekend, supplies were extremely low around the region, and they were travelling to three or four grocery stores to get people the food they needed.
“Grocery stores looked like war zones,” Bruner said.
As of Monday, March 16, stores were beginning to have more stock, and they could streamline their operation a bit more. He’s not sure how long they’ll continue doing this, but he said his phone and Facebook page hasn’t stopped being inundated. He said as long as people need help and they’re able to provide it, they’re going to keep going.
“I can’t say no,” Bruner said.
He said the people they’re helping run the gamut. They’ve been contacted by single mothers worried about finding diapers and formula for their children. They’ve run to the store for elderly couples, or for families with a member undergoing cancer treatment.
The operation has also expanded out from Cherry Hill as more and more people learned about what they were doing. As of Tuesday, March 17, they’d helped more than 200 families from across South Jersey including residents of Cherry Hill, Mt. Laurel, Washington Township, Somerdale, Moorestown, Turnersville, Voorhees, Camden, Haddon Heights and Collingswood.
He said everyone who’s contacted them has been in serious need.
“We weren’t sure what to expect from people, but we haven’t seen anyone take advantage of the service,” Bruner said.
While several people have offered to donate, Bruner’s response is that the operation is 100 percent self-funded, and their sole goal is to set a good example for their children and other people in the community.
He said the people they’ve helped have been overwhelmed with gratitude. One couple opened the door in tears and explained that they were going hungry prior to their visit and wouldn’t have eaten if Bruner’s team hadn’t arrived. He said they feel honored to get to meet and help so many grateful people.
“I feel like we are the lucky ones; we are getting to see the best side of people,” Bruner said.
Editor’s note: At this time, Bruner is still operational but limited to helping those in serious need. The company is also trying to limit their own exposure to COVID-19 because they don’t want to infect those they are helping. Therefore, they’ve asked only those who are in serious need contact them.