Kitty Meyer celebrates her 12th year volunteering at The HOPE Center
The Toms River nonprofit serves families in crisis throughout Ocean County by providing their basic human needs while empowering them to reach their greatest level of self-sufficiency.
Toms River, NJ – Kitty Meyer has been a member and missionary of The Presbyterian Church since 1974. Through her outreach with the church, she developed a desire to help those less fortunate. She vividly remembers when the Federal Government handed out cheese and butter to those on welfare. “This was before we had food pantries,” she said. “That’s when the church stepped in. I would help them bag the food and put it on the shelf so individuals could feed their families.”
Then, in 2009, through a joint effort of The Presbyterian Church and The Clergy Association of Greater Toms River, The HOPE Center was formed. Meyer immediately started volunteering, along with others from The Presbyterian Church.
“The HOPE Center is a place where we make people feel welcome and unashamed,” said Meyer. “We want them to be able to walk through that door and feel like someone is going to genuinely help them. There is absolutely no judgement here.”
Through the years, Meyer has seen the number of people in need rise. “At first, we received about 5-10 people in need of food daily,” she recalls. “Then, after Superstorm Sandy, that number just grew and grew.”
Eventually, The HOPE Center changed to a “client choice” pantry, which means individuals can pick their food selections in a store-like setting. Then COVID-19 hit, and The HOPE Center had to transition back to bagged food. “We set up the bags under a tent for contactless distribution,” said Meyer.
Due to her philanthropic and selfless example, Meyer’s three children have also volunteered in the food pantry at The HOPE Center through the years. Meyer currently spends three to four days volunteering her time at the nonprofit. Her children come whenever they can to help. “I am there to receive deliveries from Fulfill Monmouth & Ocean,” she said. “Fulfill started with us in 2016 and now they are such a big part of The HOPE Center and we would not be where we are without their support.”
Looking back on her life, Meyer solemnly remembers when her husband passed away a few years ago and The HOPE Center immediately became her extended family. “They were always there for me,” she said. “I can say wholeheartedly that they are the reason why I survived the pandemic. The HOPE Center gave me a place to go… a place to serve… a place to feel loved.”
The HOPE Center shares the sentiment. “Kitty is an amazing person who gives tirelessly to the work of our food pantry each and every day,” said Amy VanBezooijen of The HOPE Center. “She has been a rock during this most difficult year.”
A longtime resident of Toms River, Meyer is now celebrating her 12th year volunteering with The HOPE Center and expresses how the nonprofit has always valued her input. “They really listen to all of us,” she says. “I am not alone because of The HOPE Center. They have a true heart to serve and that is why I am here.”
The HOPE Center is located at 253 Chestnut Street in Toms River. To learn more or for volunteer opportunities, visit houseofhopeocean.org.
About The HOPE Center
The HOPE Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization initiated by the Clergy Association of Greater Toms River. Within a place of hope and faith, the mission of The HOPE Center is to serve families in crisis with dignity and compassion, providing for their basic human needs, and striving to empower each person to achieve his or her greatest level of self-sufficiency. Current hours are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9am to 3pm. To reach The HOPE Center, call 732-341-4447. After 4pm, for emergency services, please call 211.