PHOTO: Students from area high schools assisted with the move.
HIGHLANDS – The food pantry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church will be open Sunday for the first time after a brief closure to enable a move to new quarters. But the rapid reopening was only made possible thanks to more than 50 teenagers from several local high schools who poured time, energy, and enthusiasm into making the move.
Located in the former convent, the white house behind the parking lot on Navesink Avenue adjacent to the church, the pantry was last month to facilitate the move from the house to the basement of the church. The house is part of the property the Borough of Highlands is purchasing from the church to build its municipal offices and is one of two buildings on the tract scheduled for demolition to make way for the new construction.
Trish and Dan Curtin, who have managed the pantry for the past 12 years, turned to teenagers they know to solicit help. Fifty-four teens, who attend Red Bank Catholic, CBA, Middletown North and Middletown South high schools spent the last four weekends, each donating anywhere from four to 20 hours each week, to move hundreds of cases of food and other products, most of it donated from the community and some from government resources, across Miller St. to the basement rooms of the church, where the pantry had first started many years ago. It was moved from the church to the former convent in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy.
“We knew we had to close for a couple of weeks to make this possible,” Ms Curtin said, “so we had told those who use the pantry to take extra supplies in anticipation of the closure. We wanted to be sure no one was seriously affected by the move.”
As at the former location, the shelves in the new location are brimming with all manner of canned goods, packaged pastas, household supplies and other needed items. Ms Curtin said while parking might be a problem once construction begins on the borough facility, and there are some stairs to descend, “the new quarters will work out fine.”
Curtin said both she and her husband knew they could count on teenagers to help with the move; their daughter, Catherine, now a student at the University of South Carolina, graduated from Red Bank Catholic last year, and the Curtins knew many of the students. They also reached out to friends of the Middletown Library and the OLPH Youth Group, all of whom responded.
Regular hours for the food pantry, which is open to all simply by showing proof of their current address, are Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. . and Mondays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
On an average week, the pantry meets the needs of 150 families from the Highlands and Sea Bright area. Volunteers who work regularly with the Curtins are Kevin and Lynn Mullan, Valerie Strehl, Mary Ackerson, Brendan Coulson and Lillian Quinn.
The teenagers who spearheaded the work crews are Red Bank Catholic freshman Stephen Santulli, and sophomores Nick LaTona and Jack Pollacko, all of whom are all involved in varsity hockey or baseball at school. The teens said they volunteered their time because “it’s the right thing to do, and it’s a way we can help others.”
Father Fernando Lopez, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes parish, thanked the teenagers and all the volunteers who maintain the pantry and fill a need for the people in the community. “We are a community in this parish,” the pastor said, “and always want to reach out to help those who have a need, whether it is a temporary setback or a long term situation. And we are so grateful to parish members who have the time they so generously donate to this worthy cause.”