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HAMMONTON - The Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Egg Harbor Township hosted its 16th annual Turkey Drive on Nov. 19 at 13 sites in Atlantic and Cape May counties with the ambitious goal of gathering thousands of turkeys.

ShopRite of Hammonton was one of the collection sites and students from area schools as well as Food Bank staff and volunteers graciously greeted customers and requested donations. They collected frozen turkeys, nonperishable food items to complete the holiday meals and monetary donations.

“I like to give back to others,” said Shannon Aumenta of Hammonton after dropping off a few bags of groceries.

“I’m always willing to help out when I can,” said Carmela Santora of Hammonton after giving a monetary donation.

The financial donations are important to the Food Bank because when they receive a $1 donation, they have the ability to provide $10 worth of food.

“Food drives raise awareness and allow people to realize the need is there and it is in their backyard,” said Lorelei Alden, inventory management coordinator at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Robert Levin of Hammonton donated the free turkey he earned from ShopRite and some fixings. “I’m just trying to give back to the community,” he said. “I can afford to buy my own turkey. I’m blessed by that, so I gave the free one away.”

The southern branch provides meals to those living with food insecurity through 309 partner agencies in Atlantic, Cumberland and Cape May counties, and they are hoping to provide Thanksgiving meals to the growing amount of people in need.

“The three counties we serve in South Jersey — Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties — have the highest percentages of unemployment and the highest percentages of child food insecurity. There is no more urgent need in our state right now than in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties,” said Richard Uniacke, vice president of the southern branch.

“We are very fortunate to have so many people in the communities that we serve who recognize that hunger is a serious and urgent problem in their communities and they want to help,” he added. “It’s just a tremendous thing that one in five kids in New Jersey is hungry.”

The need isn’t just there during the holidays; it is a daily struggle for those living with food insecurity.

“While at this time of year, we are traditionally coming together with our families, our friends, our loved ones, and thinking about what we are thankful for, it is a time when we see a tremendous outpouring of support because we think about those who are struggling, who are dealing with challenges that perhaps we are not at this time,” said Uniacke. “What I hope people remember is that someone who is dealing with food insecurity, having trouble keeping food on their table in their household, that it is a 365-day-a-year struggle for them. This goes far beyond Thanksgiving, or Christmas or Hanukah or any other of these holidays this time of year.”

Last year the Food Bank distributed more than 3,000 turkeys and it is expected the need to more than double this year. Uniacke said his goal is to gather 10,000 turkeys, a feat the Food Bank has been working on since spring.

Milissa Wescoat of Mullica explained to her neice, Savannah Francesso, 3, of Egg Harbor Township, why they were donating. “We have the things we need and we have a couple extra dollars to give to them so that other people can have a nice Thanksgiving,” she said.

The Community Food Bank of New Jersey accepts donations year-round. Call (609) 383-8843, visit www.cfbnj.org or stop by the Food Bank at 6735 Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township.

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