The door at the Aldersgate Crisis Room creaks as it opens and slams when it shuts – and it does it with an unfortunate frequency.
Inside, bags of pre-sorted groceries line a nearby counter, and cabinets, shelves and boxes are filled with food that has been donated to the Crisis Room from residents and area businesses or purchased from food banks.
“We go for a balanced meal, and when we can get it we give fresh fruit,” said Paul Roder, who volunteers at the Crisis Room. “Some farmers come in and leave stuff.”
The Crisis Room is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays and is open to any Middlesex County resident in need. Those who come by can get groceries, shop at the second hand clothing room, and, if they show up at the right time and on the right day, meat or baked goods.
“We can’t always do it, but this week we can,” said Roder, after handing a patron a package of chicken early one Tuesday morning.
Founded by Fran Mickett almost 35 years ago, the Crisis Room is a ministry of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church of East Brunswick where families in need can come get food, and clothing assistance. Originally started to help area people in need, the Crisis Room now serves between 1,200 and 1,400 people every month, including about 425 families. The number is huge, but according to Roder and fellow volunteer Ed Pearce, need in the area is growing. In fact, the number of patrons using the Crisis Room is up 30 percent from this time last year.
“What we’re seeing are some older customers who are workers. A lot of tradesmen,” said Roder, referring to one patron who had arrived for the first time earlier that day. The man had worked for 25 years at the same place until one day, the shop closed. “We have a lot of trades people coming in. Trade is really suffering.”
The Crisis Room is located in a "little white house" next to the Aldersgate United Methodist Church on Ryders Lane. Attached to it is an area that sells donated household goods, books, toys, and more, with proceeds going to help support the Crisis Room. Donations for the “shop” can be dropped off on the front porch.
“You never know what you’re going to find, and you never know what people are going to bring, so hopefully people bring in nice stuff,” said volunteer Diane Plumser.
In a room off to the side of the Crisis Room is another area where patrons can purchases used clothing for a $1, with proceeds also going got the Room.
With business booming, and that squeaky door slamming away all day, volunteers like Roder and Pearce might begin to feel overwhelmed at times. The pair not only work during the Crisis Room’s open hours, but spend time shopping at food banks, sorting food, checking in patrons and providing a happy, friendly face for them to see when they come in.
“We’re both retired, and it’s something like to do and we feel it provides a community service,” said Roder about he and Pearce."
"A job like this keeps me active," said Pearce.
While much of the food is purchased at the Community Food Bank in Hillside with money donated by the church, businesses or elsewhere, donations are always welcome. Peanut butter and jelly, cereal, macaroni and cheese, canned meats, spaghetti and soup are needed. Baby items such as diapers, Enfamil, and baby food also is welcome.
The Crisis Room also provides turkeys, hams or chickens during Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as toys, stocking stuffers and warm clothing to families who register for the Christmas shop. In 2010, the Crisis Room gave gifts to more than 150 children.
ESL courses also are offered free of charge.
People who want to use the Crisis Room need to show a drivers license, WIC Card, Social Security Car, Disability Notice, Unemployment Notice or a Utility Bill. For more information, call 732-613-7220. The hotline for assistance is 732-257-9920 and can be reached 24 hours per day.
The Crisis Room receives assistance from ShopRite Partners in Caring, the News Tribune Needy Cases Fund, Trinity Presbyterian Church and other local churches.
If you’d like to make a donation, food and clothing can be dropped off at the facility, 526 Ryders Lane. To make a monetary donations, makes checks out to the church and send them to 526 Ryders Lane, East Brunswick, N.J. 08816.