HAZLET, NJ –  There are many reasons why someone might be inclined to go to a food pantry- unemployment, health problems and homelessness are just some. COVID-19 has had devastating effects throughout the world, resulting in many people losing their jobs. For those who would benefit from some assistance, St. John’s UMC Food Pantry is there to help.

It is open every Thursday between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., making it one of the few local food pantries that operate at night. Providing identification is currently not required.

St. John's UMC Food Pantry is located at 2000 Florence Avenue in Hazlet, NJ. Due to COVID-19 regulations, clients are not allowed to go inside the building. They can wait outside the brown metal doors in the back parking lot as the volunteers distribute shopping carts full of food and toiletries.

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Mother and son duo, Karrie and Connor Johnson, are the volunteers who roll out the shopping carts and greet clients. They also bring out a rack lined with shampoos, conditioners and other miscellaneous items.

Johnson said family sizes have doubled throughout the pandemic. She believes families are moving in together so they can combine resources and reduce rent costs. She said volunteers prepare for at least 80 families each week.

Her mother, Gail Bechtoldt, became director of St. John’s UMC Food Pantry three years ago. One of Bechtoldt’s main goals is to provide people with their preferences.

“We try to give them more of a varied food choice, like we would want ourselves,” Bechtoldt said.

Johnson said all food and items are appreciated, but there are some that are more needed. She said hygienic products, like deodorant, shampoo and bar soap, are especially important.

“When I look at my closet, I see a row of deodorants my sons and my husband like,” Johnson said. “They don’t have that. You may have a favorite brand, but they can’t because they have to get whatever they can get.”

She said a lot of desired products are ones we take for granted. She said she recently gave a 16-year-old client a bag of makeup, which brought the client to tears.

“She doesn’t have money to buy makeup and she’s 16,” Johnson said. “To a 16-year-old, that’s severely important.”

Conditioner, over-the-counter medicine, children and adult diapers, wipes, kid-friendly cereal, jelly, Target gift cards, toothpaste and plastic two-handled shopping bags are examples of other needed products. The food pantry is not accepting clothes at the moment.

Hazlet resident Keri Williams has been a client at St. John’s UMC Food Pantry for several years. She used to be a single mother and started coming to the pantry when her eldest child was young. She stopped coming for a while, but has since returned. She said her husband retired due to COVID-19, so they are now raising their three-year-old toddler under one income.

“Due to COVID-19, everything changed,” Williams said. “Life changed and everybody’s changing, but they’re always willing to help no matter what life is bringing.”

St. John’s UMC Food Pantry receives food donations from local stores and residents, but is always thankful for more.

“COVID-19 changed people’s hearts and minds. Generosity has been phenomenal,” Bechtoldt said. “If it weren’t for our volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

For health and safety reasons, they are currently not accepting any volunteers. If you’d like to help, you can drop off items at the donation box at any time. It is located next to the brown metal doors in the back parking lot.