By Chris Rotolo |
MIDDLETOWN – A new food pantry in Belford is placing a premium on helping anyone who asks, by turning a blind eye to common requirements and opening their hearts.
“We don’t care if you’re unemployed or you have a job, if you’re a documented or undocumented citizen, if you’re a member of a local church or don’t attend. We don’t care about any of that. We don’t require anything of you to be able to help you,” said Anna Dobin, who serves as the coordinator of the 123 Mangia Food Pantry.
Where food pantries often have specific criteria or income eligibility guidelines for patrons to receive support, the 123 Mangia Food Pantry has opted not to develop any type of guidelines.
“It’s not easy to ask for help,” Dobin added. “It takes a lot for someone to admit that they are in need of a meal. We believe if you’re willing to ask, there’s a good reason for it.”
The pantry opened in October 2017. It is located at 302 Church St. and operates under the supervision of Rev. Luigi Hargain and his nearby St. Augustine’s Monastery.
In just over five months, Dobin and her volunteer staff – which includes Mary Ellen Levy, Nancy Oster, Ann Yarczower, Lisa Gallo, Kimberly Kratz, Fran McNicolas and Amber Marzano – have provided support for more than 92 families living in the nearby Middletown communities of Belford and Leonardo and elsewhere in the township, as well as Atlantic Highlands, Keansburg and Sea Bright. Their efforts have drawn praise from township officials like Mayor Stephanie Murray.
“The township is always supportive of programs that help members of our community,” Murray said. “The 123 Mangia Food Pantry is a wonderful addition to Belford. St. Augustine’s Monastery is not only feeding our families in need, but also providing spiritual guidance. We look forward to working with them and serving residents to the best of our ability.”
The way in which the organization approaches the distribution of food and goods aligns with Hargain’s lifestyle, as the American Catholic priest – who heads the Ecumenical Missionaries in Belford – has taken a vow of poverty.
Hargain and his fellow monks – Brother Joseph, Brother Joseph Marie, Brother Luke and Brother Augusta – ventured to Belford two years ago and have worked to restore the abandoned facility on the Church Street property, which now houses the 123 Mangia Food Pantry in its basement.
The facility was formerly St. Clement’s Church, which was left rotting and dilapidated after Super Storm Sandy sent a swell of water surging through Belford, flooding much of the community east of Route 36, before crossing over the highway and flooding the building.
Hargain, the brothers and other community volunteers have rebuilt the walls, resurfaced the floors and filled the empty dwelling with pews, pulpits, religious statues and other church furnishings that have all been donated by various churches and organizations from around the state.
The pantry is the latest edition to the developing house of worship, and Dobin believes it’s Hargain’s commitment to St. Augustine’s philosophy that inspires compassion and altruism from her community volunteers.
“Father Luigi explained to us that, though it is important to help the homeless, there are still regular people and regular families that are suffering through troubling times, and they shouldn’t be forgotten either,” Dobin said. “If these families have lost one income and are struggling, we can provide one or two meals a week, and that will go a long way toward helping with another of their bills.”
“These women are true community leaders,” Hargain said of Dobin and her volunteers. “They have been fantastic and I think the best word to describe their pantry is ‘kindness.’ They show such kindness to anyone who seeks their help. Through their great work, they’re making a true difference in the world around them.”
Until now the operation has relied solely on donations of food and funds from local residents as well as organizations from around the state to help support a growing list of local individuals and families. Recently the pantry submitted an application for assistance from Fulfill Monmouth & Ocean – formerly known as the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County.
If approved for Fulfill membership, the group will have access to state and government food donations for free or at lower cost.
“Since we launched a few months ago the community has really rallied around our efforts and donated supplies as well as their time. Support is definitely growing, but so is the number of people that are in need of our help,” Dobin said.
The pantry is open on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
However, for those who are unable to travel to the pantry, there is the Mangia Door-to-Door program, which caters to seniors and disabled individuals unable to leave their homes, as well as special cases like caretakers unable to leave a family member who is battling cancer or other restrictive ailments.
Dobin is also hoping to expand their “stuffing” initiatives, such as Stuffed Backpacks, an effort in September that saw the group fill backpacks with school supplies and distribute them to Keansburg students in need. Two months later came Stuffed Pocketbooks, where the group gathered health and beauty supplies into pocketbooks and supplied them to local mothers.
Over Thanksgiving and Christmas, the pantry distributed more than 80 turkeys and 50 presents.
It’s this type of outreach in such a short time that Dobin believes has helped the surrounding community establish confidence in the pantry. “We’ve developed a very good reputation and credibility in our community,” she said. “And people want to donate to a place that they can trust. They want to know that the food, the clothes, the money, it’s going to an organization that is going to do good with it. And that’s absolutely our mission.”
For more information on the pantry, e-mail TheMangiaFoodPantry@gmail.com.
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