CAMDEN, NJ — When the Collingswood school system found itself with an excess of milk cartons last week due to closures, it sent 500 to the Cathedral Kitchen — a Camden staple that feeds thousands in the city every month.

It’s that type of generosity that continues to drive the non-profit during turbulent times brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, development director Noreen Flewelling told TAPinto Camden.

“I myself have been out to the grocery stores and see the shelves are empty, and how people are reacting to all this,” Flewelling said. “It’s especially hard for those in the community we serve that don’t have food security because of their finances or other struggles. These are individuals who can’t get food or supplies for the next day, let alone the next week.”

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On peak days, Cathedral’s Kitchen sees up to 500 people coming in for meals — a figure that has kept steady even after Gov. Phil Murphy recently disbanded gatherings of 50 or more. 

But business hasn’t been as usual at the Federal Street center.

Last Friday — hoping to curtail the potential spread of the virus and to protect everyone in the building — Cathedral halted sit-down meals altogether. 

At least seven presumptive positive cases have been confirmed in Camden County as of Wednesday afternoon, including 427 cases and five deaths in New Jersey.

Instead, hot meals are wrapped for guests to take home. Visitors who line up come in through the center’s dining room area where they head to the restroom to sanitize and finally are greeted with a volunteer and their meal.

“As this goes on we will see how it affects our numbers,” added Flewelling. “We also have maintenance staff working around the clock, wiping down door handles, phones and anything else that is commonly used.”

Cathedral’s Kitchen, in line with national food safety practices, is providing workers with gloves and hairnets too. 

Some staff members are also working from home, including Flewelling who rotates with other managers, as the center works to limit personnel at the center.

"We are following guidance from the Center for Disease Control and local health officials to ensure best practices for the safety of our staff and those we serve," said Cathedral Kitchen executive director, Carrie Kitchen-Santiago.

How you can help

Other programs that are part of the center are still underway, including providing daily meals to Volunteer of America's eight halfway houses and shelters in Camden and continuing to bring food to vulnerable seniors and children residing in homeless shelters. 

Other programs have had to stop for the time being, including the non-profit's dental clinic and culinary/baking arts job training program. 

Project HOPE and Camden County will continue to provide medical and behavioral health care for guests and the community on Mondays and Thursdays, the center announced on Facebook.

“We imagine donations slowing down with schools and other offices throughout the city closing,” Flewelling said. “Church groups aren’t getting together either, so we foresee being on the decline because of that as well.”  

She said those reaching out via email and social media, should know that financial donations are the most effective. 

“Not only because we have to purchase food, but if we can purchase it in larger quantities we get better deals. Also, financial contributions helps to adhere to the social distancing rules,” Flewelling added.

Food donations are still encouraged — particularly bottled water, serving-size and prepackaged snacks. Meat, cheese, as well as peanut butter and jelly are also helpful to make sandwiches for to-go bags.

Cathedral's Kitchen will maintain its regular meal hours of 3:15 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Anyone looking to donate can visit donatenow.networkforgood.org/donatetoCK.

Those in search of meal distribution sites can visit the center, or search the Food Bank of South Jersey website to access one of the more than 20 locations in the city. 

"Although our operations are shifting temporarily in response to COVID-19, we remain dedicated to providing essential meals and food for our guests and out in the community," said Santiago.

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