After almost a year of providing food to Mt. Laurel and its neighboring communities in greater demand than usual, the Caring Corner Food Pantry at Masonville-Rancocas United Methodist Church will hold its first food drive of 2021 on Jan. 23.
Reverend Karen Murray emphasizes that even though the food pantry is affiliated with a church, it is meant to ensure that no one in Mt. Laurel or beyond suffers from food insecurity.
“We’re here by God’s grace to help all of our neighbors,” she said.
During her year and a half as the church’s pastor, Murray has already seen changing trends in terms of the role the food pantry plays in its community. More and more Burlington County families are depending on the help they get from various resources throughout South Jersey — some coming from as far as Willingboro and Riverside — to make sure their families are fed.
“We’re seeing over or about 35 families a week, or feeding about 150 to 175 people per week,” Murray explained, adding that because weekly recipients make up a revolving door of familiar faces, the pantry is not always feeding the same families. “It is an increase in clientele and the number of families we’re supporting each week.”
More recently, as the prices of certain foods rise but fixed budgets don’t, the pastor said the church’s pantry has been providing food to more of the area’s older residents.
“The number has also increased in terms of the ages we serve: We’re seeing more and more retired couples, and I don’t think people realize that,” Murray mused. “A lot of people who live on Social Security don’t have that financial security right now. Even though their finances stay the same, if they’re on a tight budget, the amount it now costs to buy milk and bread and all different things … Their money isn’t going as far.”
The pantry requests all manner of nonperishable foods: Soups, canned fruits and vegetables, potatoes, boxed pasta, sauces, peanut butter, cereal and beverages (coffee, tea and juices). Individually packaged snacks are especially welcome, as are home supplies such as paper products and cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items.
Murray also mentioned that shelf-stable milks, such as powdered and nut milks that don’t need to be cold, are especially appreciated right now. And with the township’s students back in school to some degree, healthy snacks also are in high demand.
The remarkable above-and-beyond generosity local residents and anonymous neighbors showed the Caring Corner pantry and its regular recipients during the holiday season also served as a reminder that financial donations go a long way, too. Murray recalled how one nameless donor gave the pantry a number of gift cards that helped volunteers curate specific packages for regular recipients whose unique needs are now familiar.
But no matter the donation, it goes a long way in helping the pantry help those who need a little extra support right now.
“It might not always seem like a lot, but when several people give to us, it creates a good amount of food that we’re able to distribute,” Murray said. “Of course, we always love the food drives.”
Having regular donors and recipients, Murray noted, has fostered a sense of home within the pantry that has helped quash the trepidation and embarrassment some people feel when they turn to a food pantry.
“Our givers and receivers are very comfortable coming here,” the pastor affirmed. “We’ve had so many opportunities to meet people in the community, from those who come to us for food, to those generous people who donate week after week. They’ve become like family.”
For the Jan. 23 food drive, spearheaded by the Mt. Laurel Democrats, there are two dropoff locations: Donations can be delivered directly to the church, at 200 Masonville Road, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., or can be left on the porch of 18 Winterberry Court at any time during the day.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Caring Corner Food Pantry also accepts donations between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday. It’s open to those who need food or other supplies every Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m., and every third Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m.
For more information, visit masumc.org/caring-corner-ministries.