Soup kitchens and food pantries in the Garden State have had to rethink their serving strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the leading edge of reforming those protocols is the Salvation Army.

Maj. James Betts, division commander of the Salvation Army in New Jersey, said operations have shifted from sit-down service to takeout, and from local pantries to a regional warehouse model, even as need has increased "tremendously."

"Particularly, people that are without a home currently are dependent upon a place where they can go and get a hot meal," he said. "The challenge becomes when you can't do that, you can't bring people in and sit them down like normal circumstances."

The Salvation Army is one of the nation's largest disaster relief organizations and touts itself as the No. 1 charity feeding New Jerseyans in need during this crisis. Timing is everything, and Betts said if the pandemic were hitting when the weather was getting colder, not warmer, that would create a whole new set of complications for them.

Right now food is the most pressing need the Army is seeing, so food pantries are "critical" to their success, according to Betts. Non-perishables are in great demand, as volunteers must be able to store, pack, and ship these goods throughout the state.

However, other kinds of food and supplies, from milk to lunch meat to containers and utensils, are all very welcome now and for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of volunteers, Betts said they're in high demand too.

"We're needing folks who maybe have some time on their hands and could give a couple weeks of volunteer service to help us, so that those processes could keep going," he said.

With Salvation Army thrift stores closed right now, Betts said money is needed to keep the organization's regular, resident rehabilitation programs afloat, as shelter ranks just below food as a dire concern.

After all, the Army's presence in the community does more than just "fill a belly," as Betts put it. It provides hope that your neighbors will be able to still provide hope in difficult times.

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