Seeds of Service is the new name for the former Visitation Relief Center on Mantoloking Road, but it has the same core group of 12 staff members and volunteers who came together in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy who are now offering expanded services.
Executive Director Christie Winters said that the Visitation Relief Center was a ministry of the Visitation Parish, but they separated from the church because “We got too big. We have a new name and a new mission.”
The mission statement for SOS is to assist and advocate for the sick, poor and needy while collaborating with other community partners.
The rebuilt center has several “Family Needs” rooms downstairs where individuals – who are mostly Brick residents – can help themselves to clothing and household goods that have been donated.
Sustainability Manager Lidia Kelly is in charge of the food pantry, a majority of which comes from Fulfill (formerly the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties).
The pantry is also replenished by grant funding, plus donations of food and money, and they partner with several St. Vincent De Paul parishes, Catholic Charities and others, she said.
Each month, some 300 families (representing 1,000 individuals), come to SOS open choice food pantry and receive four to five days worth of groceries. The center even has food available for pets.
“There has always been more of a need than we can supply, but we get daily intakes,” Kelly said. “We never refuse anyone.”
Clothing not given away in a Family Needs room is brought upstairs into the “Ebay Center.”
Run by Moira Edge, the Ebay store sold $82,000 worth of clothing in 2018, nearly half of the center’s $200,000 annual operating budget.
Part of the store’s success is due to 26 special needs Brick High School students who, depending on their skill level, learn to photograph the items for Ebay, write them up, stock, label and ship items.
“They learn job skills and it has been very successful,” Winters said. “We find jobs for them to do here, no matter what.”
Sixteen have graduated from high school and have gotten employment, she added.
About 85 percent of the labor force at SOS are volunteers, who restock the pantry, check families in, process donations, and much more, Winters said.
There are 14 members on the Board of Trustees, led by Bob Casale, who arrived at the center with his car, full of donations from the Manchester Walmart. He also runs an employee/resume workshop on Wednesdays.
“Instead of being part of the church we are waiting for our 501(c)(3) and are looking to be under the larger umbrella of the Trenton diocese,” Winters said.
The Visitation Relief Center opened its doors in February 2013 to help victims of the storm and operated until October 2016 when it was suddenly closed by a construction official from the Trenton Diocese when it was discovered the center did not have a Certificate of Occupancy and had outstanding violations dating back to 2013.
The center relocated to two storefronts in the Laurelton Square Shopping Center for about a year and a half while the Mantoloking Road location underwent a complete overhaul.
“The building had a lot of issues. We got all new HVAC systems, new electrical work, drywall, we had to remove a 60’ x 40’ hoop house from the back of the property, and in July 2018 we moved back in and became SOS,” Winters explained.
She said the township administration and building officials were “phenomenal” during the rebuild who “helped us get through a long, complicated project with little funding.”