By Patty Booth O’Neill – Last Tuesday 150 people enjoyed a hot, homemade Thanksgiving dinner at St. Brigid’s Pantry & Kitchen located in St. James Church on Broadway in Long Branch. The meals were prepared by Chef Dominique Perez with 20 volunteers seating and serving, along with Jr. Warden Nancy Francese who manages St Brigid’s.
“Chef Dom and a team of dedicated volunteers worked all week prepping and cooking,” Francese said. “The food was donated by Long Branch Professional Firefighters Local 68, Monmouth Medical Center and turkeys were provided by Fulfill.”
St. Brigid’s feeds over 1000 men, women and children every month providing each family with fresh groceries and a hot meal twice a week.
But that’s not all they provide for the community
According to St. Brigid’s Mission Statement:
The pantry and kitchen were borne out of necessity in 2012 when Superstorm Sandy hit Long Branch with devastating force. We started with one husband & wife cooking, now we have a part-time chef, a part-time pantry manager and 23 volunteers all of whom prep the lunches, which are nutritious and balanced meals consisting of either meat, poultry or fish, a vegetable and a starch. The food is cooked so everything is ready to start distribution at 11 am. Our meals are not only healthy, but tasty and require a plethora of pots and pans to cook over 100 lunches each Monday and Wednesday. After the preparation other volunteers begin washing the pots and pans. In the pantry we have volunteers to take clients through our “grocery store” to help them find the items they want to choose.
Because of our dedicated volunteers, we were able to remain open all through the pandemic – changing our protocol from inside seating for meals, to meals-to-go and groceries-to-go packed by our volunteers. We were one of the very few pantries and kitchen that remained open throughout the lockdown, and as a result our numbers of clients grew. Now with Covid still lingering, the high inflation rate, the supply chain obstacles and rising rents, we are seeing more and more people turning to St. Brigid’s for continued help. In addition to regular meals every week, we also provided a Thanksgiving dinner for our clients.
To fill the needs of clients, we have begun partnerships with local organizations. The Family Health Center of Long Branch provides us with nurses every week who administer Covid vaccines, boosters, flu shots, blood pressure screening and HIV screening, all free of charge.
We have two nutritionists, one from Monmouth Medical Center and one from The Community Food Bank of NJ, who come regularly to help our clients learn how to cook the fruits and vegetables and receive recipes. We have a representative from Fulfill who is there every Monday to help clients sign up for Medicaid, SNAP, and food stamps, as well as a representative from United Healthcare to sign clients up for affordable health coverage.
We also receive additional deliveries of perishable items from Seashore food distributors, an affiliate of Fulfill every week and we receive 60 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as canned tomatoes from Monmouth Medical who was a recipient of a Monmouth County government grant. It may seem as though we receive more than enough food through weekly deliveries, but at the end of each week, nearly everything we have to give away is gone. We have also established a “Baby Department” providing diapers and wipes.
Because St. Brigid’s does not generate any money itself, we rely 100% on donations from private sources as well as local businesses and organizations. And, although we do not pay for the food we distribute and cook, there are expenses incurred just to keep the kitchen up and running – cooking supplies, cleaning supplies, food containers as all meals are on a to-go basis because of Covid (1000/month), aluminum cooking pans, plastic flatware. We have nine freezers and five refrigerators which puts a strain on our electric bill.
We know these are challenging times for everyone, but our mission at St. Brigid’s is to feed the poor and hungry, those who can not provide for themselves. Children need healthy food to promote healthy growth physically and mentally. Seniors often have to choose between food or medicine – that is not acceptable. We thank you for whatever you are able to do to help St. Brigid’s continue this most important mission.
St. James’ Church (on the memo of the check St. Brigid’s Pantry or Sarah’s Feast)
Long Branch, NJ 07740