Middletown, N.J. COVID-19 has put a strain on community resources, especially charitable, social support programs, and food pantries that provide daily sustenance, emergency assistance and essential items to those in need. Many families are now in dire straits due to the pandemic, trying to find help and to navigate through a maze of requirements and programs. “It is very scary and disconcerting to these people, many of whom never needed help before. There is so much food insecurity in the area, as well as people who are homeless. It is shocking. COVID-19 has plunged the community into unprecedented times and has also put a terrible strain on the food pantries and charitable programs who are just trying to keep up with demand they have never seen before,” noted Beverly Bova Scarano, president of the Middletown Lions Club. Bova, a lifelong volunteer, felt that an outreach project to help replenish supplies at food pantries and other assistance programs was badly needed, in addition to targeted help for homeless individuals and families.

     The Middletown Lions Club has created the Harvest of H.O.P.E. Community Outreach Initiative – in this case H.O.P.E. stands for Helping Other People Excel – and is seeking assistance from the community. The first phase of the initiative is a Fall food drive. The following items are most needed: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Canned Vegetables, Soups, Tuna, Fruit & Chicken, Shelf Stable Milk, Juices, Cereal, Macaroni & Cheese, Pasta, Tomato Sauce, Healthy Snacks, Cake Mixes, Icing & Puddings. Food items can be dropped off at any time at either of two locations: Investors Savings Bank Foyer, 192 Kings Highway, Middletown, or Middletown Reformed Church Education Building, 121 Kings Highway, Middletown. The food drive will be in effect and collection bins available until October 30. The Middletown Lions Club will gather and distribute the donations to food pantries and other assistance programs including The Calico Cat Emergency Food Pantry, Keyport Ministerium Food Pantry, Emmanuel Cancer Center (childhood cancer services), and The Backpack Crew. For more information, contact Beverly Bova Scarano at (908) 896-1682.

     The second phase of the initiative targets homeless populations in the area and will be operational from October 1 through November 30. Items needed to help homeless people through the pandemic and the winter months include: Tents & Sleeping Bags, New Blankets, Propane Heaters, Propane Refills, Gift Cards for Walmart or BJs, One-Pound Propane Tanks, Propane Camping Stoves, Battery-Operated Lights & Flashlights, D, C, AA, AAA Batteries, Paper Towels & Toilet Paper, Water, Trash Bags. Donations can be delivered to the Middletown Reformed Church, 121 Kings Highway, Middletown. Please leave the donations outside the church basement in the alcove. This part of the outreach initiative works in conjunction with Destiny’s Bridge, a non-profit organization which helps those with no access to traditional housing. Monetary donations can be mailed directly to Destiny’s Bridge, P.O. Box 692, Lakewood, N.J., or via PayPal at Destinysbridgefoundation@gmail.com.

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     Chartered in 1946 under Lions International, the Middletown Lions Club is an all-volunteer service organization consisting of men and women who help the community through various charitable service and fundraising initiatives and programs. The club assists individuals and families in need both locally and globally through their unique 501C3 foundation, The Middletown Lions Club Foundation. Lions the world over are known as ‘Knights of the Blind’ and were challenged directly by Helen Keller to dedicate themselves to the cause of blindness. The Middletown Lions Club underwrites a charitable community initiative that provides free eye exams, eyeglasses and hearing aids for those who cannot afford them and who meet specific financial criteria. In addition, the all-volunteer vision screening team, the ‘Knights of Sight,’ provide free vision screenings for elementary school children in local school districts. Members also volunteer directly at the Bayshore Lunch Program in Keyport, N.J. and support local food pantries, emergency feeding programs, charitable organizations, and social support initiatives in the area. More information is available on the club website, www.mlions.org.