Realtors help keep shelves stocked through the winter at the Food Cupboard

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Marge Swanson, third from left, of Trident mortgage presents a check for $250 to Dottie Cianci, at left, Food Cupboard director. Also pictured are Gloria Votta, Maria Marinelli, Karen Eisenhardt and Kathy DiGuglielmo. Marge Swanson, third from left, of Trident mortgage presents a check for $250 to Dottie Cianci, at left, Food Cupboard director. Also pictured are Gloria Votta, Maria Marinelli, Karen Eisenhardt and Kathy DiGuglielmo.

OCEAN CITY — An island filled with upscale seashore cottages, Ocean City hardly seems a community in need, but the truth is that a lot of people are having a hard time making ends meet.

The Ocean City Community Food Cupboard serves on average, about 100 families each month. In January, 161 families needed help putting food on the table.

“The winter is always a struggle, but more so this year,” said Dottie Cianci, the volunteer director of the organization.

A struggling economy, high unemployment and the escalating price of both food and gasoline, she said, are creating big challenges.

“Our numbers seem to be creeping up, last Friday we had a lot of new clients come in.”

While the organization is always in need of donations, a recent food drive by the Ocean City Board of Realtors is making a big difference in keeping the shelves stocked, Cianci said.

Gloria Votta, a Realtor for RE/MAX at the Shore who serves on the OCBOR executive board, leads the community services committee and spearheaded the second annual drive.

“She did a lovely job, I commend Gloria for doing this,” Cianci said. “She really spurred some interest from the Realtors, got them involved and we couldn’t be more grateful. I commend Gloria and all of the Realtors who contributed.”

In addition to the donations from the OCBOR, Marge Swanson from Trident Mortgage presented the Food Cupboard with a check for $250.

“We get a lot of donations at Christmas, everyone is in a generous mood,” Cianci said. “The need is so great during the winter, that by March we start to run low, so the Realtor’s efforts now will tide us over until the next food drive which is in May. This is always a tough time of the year for us. Supplies dwindle and we have to start again.

“We find a concentration at the end of each month,” Cianci said. “People are OK at the beginning, but sometimes they run out of money by the end and they need help. During the summer, it seems like there are a lot of seasonal jobs available, right now there aren’t many jobs.”

Potential clients are asked to go to the city’s social services office in the police station for evaluation; once approved, they are given a three-day “emergency supply” of food and other items as needed to hold them over, Cianci said. The Food Cupboard works with families on an individual basis to make sure no one goes hungry.

“We help tide them over,” she said.

Votta said she was happy to help.

“I’m totally blessed and I feel that no one in this country should go hungry,” she said. “No child, no family, no senior citizen, no one should be hungry. I think a lot of people feel that way. How lucky are we to live in Ocean City, it’s nice to be able to help others.”

Votta said her interest dates back to volunteering for the Community Christmas Dinner, held annually on Christmas Day at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church.

“I used to come in and set up, and then a few years ago, I came in and served,” she said. “I realized how many people are in need, I was really amazed. It made me want to do more to help, not just on Christmas Day, but throughout the year.”

Votta reached out to the city’s Ecumenical Council, which supports the Food Cupboard, and they put her in touch with Cianci.

“I wanted to delve into this, really do something meaningful,” Votta said. “Everywhere you turn, even in this community, someone has been laid off, or their hours cut, or they’ve lost their job altogether. With the price of everything going up, people who have been OK, living paycheck to paycheck can’t make it anymore. They need help at the end of the month.

“People are making choices, heat or food,” she said. “People think just because we live in Ocean City that doesn’t happen, but it does. Given the economy, it’s not surprising how many people are in need.”

The OCBOR sponsors a coat drive for the Clothes Closet and other events to help Waves of Caring, PBA charities and scholarships for Ocean City High School students. The food drive, Votta said, really hits home since helping relieve hunger has long been on her heart.

“It makes you feel good to help,” she said. Most of the donations came from the RE/MAX offices at Ninth and 33rd streets and the local Prudential, Fox and Roach offices.

“My hat is off to Prudential,” she said, adding that Kathy DiGuglielmo did a “great job” encouraging her colleagues to donate. “If I held a contest, the Battersea Road office would have won.”

Karen Eisenhardt works out of RE/MAX’s Ninth Street office. She helped her office raise $80, enough to purchase eight $10 food certificates

“It makes me feel good to help,” said Eisenhardt. “There are people in real need, unfortunately many more people than we are aware of. The Food Cupboard is there to help and I’m always happy to pitch in.”

The Food Cupboard was founded in 1976 by a group of local volunteers from the community’s Christian churches. St. Peter’s United Methodist Church offered to provide the space, which can be accessed from the alley on the ground floor of the church at Eighth Street and Central Avenue.

In 1983, volunteers officially formed the Ocean City Ecumenical Council. The Food Cupboard operation serves under the umbrella of the OCEC.

Last year, Cianci said, the Food Cupboard provided 22,000 meals to approximately 2,500 individuals. Staffed by over 200 volunteers from each of the churches, the Food Cupboard continues to grow and serve the community, she said.  Over 10,000 hours of volunteer community service are logged each year.

The Food Cupboard is open from 1-3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Non-perishable food items are needed on a regular basis.

“We have learned over the years that food stamps buy food, but not other things that people need like toiler paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste and things like that,” Cianci said. “We try to buy our food at a discount from the FoodBank in (Egg Harbor Township); we are as economical as we can be, try to make it stretch.

“We are blessed to have very generous and giving people in this community,” she said. “No matter what, it seems we always need more.”

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