NEWARK, NJ – Suddenly you’re the only pantry in existence is a heavy burden. And it’s even harder when you’re in the biggest city in New Jersey.

Many pantries and soup kitchens in Newark that were already thin before the coronavirus pandemic have seen a surge in requests for help in recent months. And Mercy House is no exception, its staff reported earlier this month.

Mercy House, a government department in the Archdiocese of Newark, has been rocked by the highest demand for food, clothing, and toiletries since it opened in the city’s southern borough in 2018.

In the meantime, the donations have fallen sharply, a devastating double blow, say the employees.

Volunteers from the Catholic Resource and Referral Center have been giving away bags of groceries to those in need almost as quickly as the donations are received. Usually, Mercy House receives donations and volunteers from local Catholic schools in the archdiocese. But since these schools closed their doors, this spring has dried up.

“There’s a shortage of food,” said Cheryl Riley, director of Mercy House. “In the first few weeks when we opened again, we were bone dry – there was nothing.”

“We wiped all of our clothes off,” Riley continued. “Everything. Bedding. We had people counting on us for small household items and everything came to a standstill.”

Like many of his fellow city social workers, Mercy House was closed in March for pandemic lockdown measures. The organization reopened one day a week Tuesday in May with new health protocols.

Since then, the volunteers and others who keep the ministry going have done their best to comply with the COVID-19 safety protocol while also helping more and more needy residents.

But it is nowhere near what it used to be, they say.

“They feel bad because the whole purpose was to let people in and give them dignity so they could look at the racks and figure out what they want,” Riley said.

“They don’t go shopping in the mall,” Riley pointed out. “They just have what we give them.”

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Clothing and household items donations are starting to flow in, but groceries are still in high demand, Riley said. And the additional demand from unemployment – and underemployment among job seekers – doesn’t help.

When other pantries serving the neighborhood struggled to reopen, Mercy House tried to fill the void.

“We were the pantry,” said Riley. “We made bags and bags and bags of food because we were the only gig in town until the others opened.”

While Mercy House may be short of food and clothes, there’s one advantage it hasn’t lost, Riley said: heart.

“There’s something in Mercy House that hooks you,” she said. “People want to come and help down there. They want to volunteer, they want to help, they want to donate, they want to give. It’s a feel-good thing. You help people. Just remember you have nothing.” That’s it. The need is enormous. “

Visit Regard-life / mercy-house or call 973-497-4350 to arrange a donation.

Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help raise awareness of the millions of Americans who are starving. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that by 2020 more than 54 million Americans will not have enough nutritious foods to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a social patch project. Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. Find out how to donate in your community or find a pantry near you.

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