The Cherry Hill Food Pantry has seen more than its share of uncertainty during the past year, and it looks like trouble may continue for the foreseeable future.
Earlier in 2019, the organization was ousted from its rent-free facility and canvassed the community to aid in its relocation. Having found new digs on Brace Road and Haddonfield-Berlin Road just prior to Christmas, the pantry didn’t have much time to settle down before the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread shutdowns and curtailment of travel.
“It was traumatic to move, doing so at our busiest time of the year at Christmas. It was also quite a shock that everything came to a standstill,” Janet Giordano, executive director of the pantry, said on April 20.
“We have a carpenter who wants to start renovations. Two companies who promised to donate materials because we can’t afford them, they said no because of how things are. So we’re back to square one.”
Giordano acknowledged that, while the spirit of service the pantry represents is alive and well, it’s much more important the physical space look professional and ready to serve the public.
“We’re not doing real well,” she admitted. “Eventually we need to open this building for clients. We’re working under terrible conditions. We’re working out of boxes.
“It’s not the way you want to run a pantry.
“Hopefully someone can step up and donate some materials and manpower and hours,” Giordano added. “Some time ago, I applied for a grant from Home Depot, and I got turned down for that!”
One bit of fortune is that the pantry, as an essential business, did not see a reduction in hours as it remained open. However, the interruption of service in the food chain, along with the drop in the number of non-regular volunteers, means the commitment to service has razor-thin margins.
“We need products and we need people to step up,” Giordano explained. “There’s no other way to put it. We have to be there. Thank goodness for good people who volunteer. There are my regulars, but a lot of the others who came in are staying home. However, a lot of people who are not working, like my daughter who’s home, she takes a few hours out of her week to come over.
“We get some product through the Food Bank of South Jersey, and extra product from SNAP as well,” Giordano added. “It’s not always things that would be on our wish list. We’re getting bakery products and produce, and some staple goods are coming through.”
What can volunteers and do-gooders in the township and beyond do to help the pantry’s bottom line?
“We have next to no milk coming in, and that’s a staple,” Giordano noted. “We need shelf-stable milk: 1 percent or 2 percent. We do get donations for almond and soy milk, but the average person doesn’t really desire that. Having shelf-stable milk would be a blessing right now.
“Also all my supermarkets, the Acme (stores) that used to supply all my small meats, like pork, that supply has dried up. We also don’t have chicken, and people also depend on that.
“We can’t give what we don’t have.”
Keeping the pantry vital in the long term, regardless of what happens when COVID-19 precautions are lifted, is also fresh in Giordano’s mind. Most of her thoughts turn to completing the necessary renovations in as timely a fashion as possible.
“Once the interior is done, we will be working on our parking lot,” she said. “We need to put that in to keep cars off the streets, and as you know, that was an issue at our last location. This is Cherry Hill’s pantry, but we also serve places like Haddonfield and Mt. Laurel, so we have to plan to stay viable.
“The help is there, but people have to continuously hear it, for it to sink in. The old squeaky wheel thing.”