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Food pantry ‘RISEs’ to the occasion, meeting growing demand due to coronavirus crisis

True to its name, RISE, the community service organization, is rising to the occasion as it helps Hightstown and East Windsor residents cope with COVID-19.

In the days after Gov. Phil Murphy shut down New Jersey last month to prevent the spread of COVID-19, jobs evaporated as people were ordered to stay home, businesses closed and companies laid off workers.

No money means no food, and that’s why families have flocked to RISE’s food pantry, said Leslie Koppel, the executive director of the Hightstown-based nonprofit organization.

RISE’s food pantry is located at 133 Broad St. in Hightstown. It is open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Wednesday, and from 5-7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month.

“The RISE food pantry is the only one that is open. The food pantries in East Windsor and West Windsor and Cranbury and Plainsboro have closed. People come to RISE,” Koppel said.

Before the March 21 statewide shutdown, about 100 families per week would use RISE’s food pantry, Koppel said. Now, about 300 families per week have begun to rely on RISE’s food pantry to help meet some of their needs, she said.

“One day, we saw 209 families come through in three hours. We used to see about 100 families a week. We have been seeing three times as many people since March 21,” Koppel said.

It’s hard to turn away a family that needs food, so RISE has loosened its requirements, she said. In the past, RISE would require families to register to use the food pantry.

“Now, you just have to show up. The only question we ask is where do you live and how many are there in the family so we can (determine) the amount of food they need,” Koppel said.

RISE was not expecting to see such growth in the demand for its food pantry, but COVID-19 changed everything. RISE had just moved from a 900-square-foot office to a 3,000-square-foot office, and it is using some of that extra space to store food for the food pantry, she said.

The growing reliance on the food pantry means there is a growing need for food donations, Koppel said. People who want to drop off food and supplies can do so at the RISE Thrift Store at 114 Rogers Ave. in Hightstown.

RISE has arranged for food drop-off hours Monday through Saturday, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the thrift store, she said. Donations should be placed in the car’s trunk.

To minimize contact between donors and RISE staffers and volunteers, donors drive up to the thrift store and pop open the car’s trunk, Koppel said. The staffer or volunteer will remove the donation from the trunk.

“The point is to avoid contact with staff and volunteers and the public,” Koppel said.

RISE also offers a snack shack for young people at the thrift store. They can grab two snacks and a drink, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Turning to the food pantry, Koppel said there is a need for non-perishable food, such as canned tuna, canned chicken, dry or canned beans, pasta, pasta sauce, cereal, pancake mix, pancake syrup, cake mix, brownie mix, baking supplies, flour, oil, and wet and dry dog and cat food.

Miscellaneous items, including personal care items such as soap and shampoo, as well as anti-bacterial cleaning wipes, baby wipes and diapers in sizes 4 to 6, are needed as well, she said.

While RISE’s recent matching gift fundraising goal of $7,000 from the community has been met, the need is still there for financial donations. The RISE Board and Friends matched the $7,000 fundraising challenge, dollar for dollar, and is now seeking additional donations to help it meet the growing demand in the weeks to come.

For more information, visit www.njrise.org.

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