Hot Off The Press: Saint Mark’s Center for Community Renewal

Feeding Bodies and Souls with Help from Impact 100

By Joanne Colella

St. Mark’s kitchen from deconstruction through expansion and modernization!

October brought news from another of our 2019 Impact 100 Jersey Coast grantees, Saint Mark’s Center for Community Renewal, who shared an update with Grantee Liaison Volunteer Holly Deitz. Based at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Keansburg, the Center for Community Renewal is a ministry that provides meals, pantry services, crisis counseling, health screenings, and more to individuals and families in need throughout the Bayshore community.

In 2019, Impact 100 members voted to award $110,000 to St. Mark’s for expansion and modernization of their kitchen to allow them to operate a USDA approved “soup” kitchen and extensive food pantry.

Reverend Rose Broderick reported on ways that the organization has continued forward with its programs amid the changing and challenging environment of 2020, with help from Impact 100 grant funds. The initial phase of the center’s kitchen expansion was completed and supplemental food was provided for guests on the one day it was closed. The first meal to mark the grand reopening of the new, modernized kitchen and equipment was served the day before the COVID shutdown.

Since the feeding ministry is considered an essential service, steps were taken to change its short-term operations in response to the pandemic. The social breakfast service was eliminated and takeout meals were implemented seven days a week, all served outdoors. The number of volunteers was reduced significantly from more than 100 to less than 10 to create a safe “CCR Bubble” and delivery service to senior and low-income housing helped reduce the number of visitors, even as the number of lunches served increased by nearly 75%. Initially, the food pantry moved to prepackaged items before returning to offering choices with outdoor service. The county food bank arranged for local area restaurants to keep staff employed by preparing meals for the ministry, allowing the Saint Mark’s small crew to focus on essentials.

To date, seven of the center’s cooking teams are back to prepare meals again onsite, with an increased number of younger family teams and some understandable hesitancy among volunteers of retirement age. As the pandemic continues, the next phase of utilizing the Impact 100 funds has been focused on redesigning the center’s outside facilities to create a safe dining space for everyone. A group of Impact 100 volunteers built well-spaced outdoor picnic tables, most pantry distribution was moved outside, and canopy tents were purchased to create shelter from sun, rain, and snow.

Other grant-supported work at the facility includes enhancements such as replacing the old window air-conditioning units with a new HVAC system and installing new windows that open to allow fresh air and adequate circulation, which is critical for reopening. Local contractors, who are also center guests with families to support, have been hired to do needed outside maintenance and repairs.

In addition to the structural work being done, the center staff is also discussing programs and services for adults and children, both short-term and long-term, that the community will need during and after the pandemic.

The message from Saint Mark’s Center for Community Renewal was heartfelt: “We continue to be so very grateful to the support provided by the women of Impact 100 Jersey Coast. Financial support is critical. However, an unexpected benefit from this grant has been access to newfound friends who have helped us with strategic planning, marketing, and sustainability envisioning, but more importantly, support and friendship during this difficult time. Thank you for all you do to support us in this mission.”