CAMDEN, NJ — Michael Jackson of Pennsauken is very particular about when he goes outside these days - given the COVID-19 pandemic. Mainly, he says, he straps on his facemask and makes the exception for volunteer events like the one hosted in Camden City Friday morning. 

“I’ve been very fortunate. Since I’m on disability for an injury, my money is guaranteed and I also have a voucher for housing since I’m a veteran,” Jackson, a member of the Camden Coalition, told TAPinto Camden. “I don't head out much, but I want to give back.”

The 58-year-old sustained a head injury while playing basketball years back. The impact of the hit, Jackson shared, caused a subdural hematoma (bleeding of the brain) but ultimately he recovered. 

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“I’m here because of the Creator, I’m better and it’s time to give back to my community,” said Jackson as he grabbed another box to load into a car.

At 8 a.m., Jackson and a dozen or so others began the unloading process at St. Joseph’s Procathedral on Federal Street. 

Over 1,200 boxes with enough food for more than 250 families: dairy products including yogurt and shredded cheese, cabbage, oranges, iceberg lettuce, apples and potatoes. Cones to help guide car traffic. Arrows posted along a fence for anyone on foot. And tents, because rain was in the forecast. 

Distribution kicked off at 11 a.m., with a dozen cars already lined up. 

“We're still dealing with multiple crises at the same time,” said Camden County External Affairs Manager, Kyle Sullender. “A public health crisis that's causing an economic crisis, which we are trying to prevent leading to a hunger crisis as well. People are out of work. They've seen their income flow interrupted, they're afraid to leave the house in some instances...so the need is still here 12 weeks later.”

A pair of Camden County police officers helped direct drivers before they rolled in through the gates - always ensuring they had their face masks on. Once inside, families mostly remained in their cars while volunteers loaded their trunks. 

Beside free food, pharmaceutical supplies were on hand as well as pamphlets reminding attendees to fill out the census (which can also be done by calling 844-330-2020). Ordinarily, volunteers would have tablets to help any willing participants complete the quick questionnaire on-site. However, they were unable to do so today due to the rain. 

Even though the pandemic has become less severe in Camden County, “the need for food has actually jumped. I’d say it’s seen an uptick of 40% since we started this earlier in the year,” said Earl Dixon, assistant director of food services for Touch New Jersey Food Alliance.

Touch NJ receives donations of food from Philabundance, an amount that varies and would be nearly gone just an hour into today’s distribution. The non-profit also makes food available each week on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“We help anybody we can, no matter if you’re from the state or Camden County,” Dixon added. “We take anybody who comes in.”

The county’s contract with Touch NJ to distribute food each Friday is currently set to end in August, although it has previously extended it by a month. 

Only a few cart-toting residents braved the rain Friday morning. 

Among them was Amelia Vazques, 32, who — with her friend Herlindo Pajes — walked away with four boxes. 

“Not many people in the Hispanic community know about these,” said Vazques. “I try to spread the word as much as I can but I know there’s many who don’t know.”

“The pandemic has made everything more difficult at home, especially when it comes to work and having enough to feed the family. This,” she added, while pointing to the boxes, “will mostly go to my kids.”

To seek a food pantry near you visit. www.foodbanksj.org. You can also donate to the Cathedral Kitchen at donatenow.networkforgood.org/donatetoCK. To fill out the census go to www.census.gov.

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