Brick Township council members, volunteers, residents and those who ate their last hot meal at the Brick Police Athletic League building came together to call on the organization to stop its plan to kick out a volunteer group that has been helping feed local victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Volunteers with the Operation Brick Food Relief group have been serving hot meals to storm victims since Sandy made landfall. The group has also taken over some of Ocean County Meals on Wheels’ routes and provided food for those in other local communities, as well as National Guard troops.
But PAL officials have told the group they must leave the building by Nov. 23, this Friday.
“On Thursday, they're having a Thanksgiving dinner from 11 to 5, and then they're being told the doors will be locked on you,” said Council President John Ducey, who called the PAL’s order “a disgrace.”
“I can't believe this is even an issue,” said Councilman Domenick Brando. “We own that building, they don't have a lease. To want to close that, to get rid of that, I'm not going to stand for it. We'll make the PAL move before they get rid of that program.”
Though township council members unanimously pledged their support for keeping the group in the building, it could take litigation to compel the PAL to allow the group to continue its efforts.
The building, located on Drum Point Road, is owned by the township but provided to the PAL at no cost. The PAL’s occupancy in the building, even without a written lease, could muddy the legal waters.
“Obviously there are some legal issues involved since they are in possession of the building,” said Township Attorney Jean Cipriani. “Even though it's our building, they do, effectively, have a lease-hold interest.”
Township Business Administrator Scott Pezarras said he spoke with PAL officials and, when he did, they were “not interested” in extending the amount of time the group would be allowed to stay in the building.
PAL officials did not attend Tuesday's township council meeting. They could not be located for comment by Brick Patch.
Brick resident Tracy Kenney, a township school bus driver whose home was severely damaged in the storm, said it took her a while to have her first meal at the PAL, but she’s glad she did.
“We didn't think about eating for days,” she said of her family. “We were busy crying, throwing out our memories. My husband decided just last week, 'let's go over there.'"
“I saw four of the children I drive in this town serving food to people,” she said. “I wanted to cry that night, and all I do is cry.”
Marilyn Moscrell is a resident of Toms River’s badly hit Silverton section who has been having her meals at the PAL.
“I've been displaced five or six times from shelter to shelter,” said Moscrell. “Basically, the PAL is the closest thing to shelter I've had. Who knows how long this is going to take. I've been eating out at Wawa for several weeks, two times a day. It gets to be monotonous. Having a meal is the most normal thing you can do everyday.”
Councilman Joseph Sangiovanni suggested the township council no longer offer the building to the PAL after the new year if it does not allow the volunteer effort to continue, as well as strip it of township funding.
Cipriani drafted a letter to the PAL during the township council meeting Tuesday night, informing the organization of the council’s strong feelings on the issue. She also said she would contact the PAL’s attorney and try to negotiate a solution.
Marlene Catino, a chef from Jackson who has been voluntarily preparing food for the group, spoke of how important the effort was for those affected by the storm.
“I had an elderly couple and I asked, 'how's your food, how's dinner?’” Catino told township council members. “The woman told me she lost six pounds in the last three days because she wasn't able to get her Social Security check. This isn't [Hurricane] Andrew or Katrina where it was warm and people could barbecue outside. It's cold out.”