Tuckerton Food Bank Director Gets Nowhere With Big Sandy Charities

Mar 20, 2013
Photo by: Pat Johnson Penny Hughes (seated), director of the Tuckerton Food Bank, and volunteer Carolyn Napolean go over the list of the most pressing needs of the pantry: macaroni and cheese, canned fruit, jelly, deodorant, milk, canned pasta dinners and big bars of soap.

Penny Hughes had to take two months off from her volunteer directing duties at the Tuckerton Food Pantry after Superstorm Sandy invaded her home with a foot of water and made her temporarily homeless. 

Even though she found a rental and is still displaced from her ranch in the Atlantis section of Little Egg Harbor Township, she has again taken up the task of finding relief for others less fortunate, those who are having trouble putting food on their tables.

The number of applications for food actually dropped after Sandy because a grassroots effort, “Pinelands Community Relief,” sprang up and volunteers opened a free food storefront in the Great Bay Plaza on Mathistown Road in neighboring Little Egg Harbor. But when that closed at the end of January, many returned to the pantry in force.

As director of the Tuckerton location, one of two food pantries run by the Greater Tuckerton Area Ministerium, a (501) 3c registered charity, Hughes decided she would contact those charities she could find online who are collecting for victims of Sandy to help fill the pantry’s quickly emptying shelves.

She wrote an email on Feb. 23 and sent it to eight agencies, including the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund chaired by Mary Pat Christie, the governor’s wife and New Jersey’s first lady.

Hughes was surprised that eligibility guidelines for aid focused on rebuilding homes and businesses and those whose college was disrupted but nothing about the basic necessity of food.

The initial response to her email was to tell her to go to her local food bank. When she explained she represented the local food bank, which is served by the Food Bank of Ocean and Monmouth counties but still needs more help, she was instructed to go to NJ211.

After explaining the food pantry is a tax-exempt charity, she wrote, “The food pantry is located in New Jersey and our community has been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Our pantry is not supported by FEMA, the Red Cross nor any insurance. So far, we fit your requirements for receiving aid. We help PEOPLE, New Jersey people who are hungry.”

“I don’t understand the problem in giving us some help,” she added.

The reply from Sandy NJ Relief Fund, addressed to “Megan,” included its mission statement and suggested she try the NJ211 number to find another food bank.

“I doubt if we would be eligible for food from another food bank,” she replied. “May I ask where the funds you are raising are going? It is my hope that they would help individuals in need first, then infrastructure, businesses and boardwalks.

“I have sent letters to eight different charities collecting for the victims of Sandy and have had help in the form of Ramen Noodles and toilet paper from only one, Americares. We would be more than happy to use any monetary donation given us and spend it at Aldies or BJs (warehouse food stores) and send you the receipts.

“Please reconsider and come to the aid of the residents of NJ.”        

She was again instructed to contact NJ211, a social emergency number for individuals with hardships.

On Thursday, March 14, Hughes was working as usual in the Tuckerton Food Pantry, currently located in a donated space in Tuckerton. The space is difficult to find and Hughes said the truck from Americares coming from Connecticut was apparently lost.

Before Sandy struck, the Tuckerton Food Bank served 334 adults and kids, then business dropped off, but in February it started climbing again to 345. “People are coming back,” said Hughes. “It’s good to see them again.”

Helping others has helped with her own emotional recovery from the storm’s aftermath. Her biggest regret was the loss of her backyard beehives.

“It does help to keep busy,” she said. “And some of my girls (bees) made it through. I see them in the yard. I'll get them back.”          

The Tuckerton Food Pantry is open Monday, Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. It is located in a construction site on Route 9 (Main Street) where the Village Shoppes used to be located and across from the Presbyterian church at the intersection with Marine Street.

Two counselors from the Center for Health and Healing in Tuckerton are available most days to talk with Sandy victims.  

— Pat Johnson


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