img_109772A client signs in at the Project Loaves and Fishes food pantry at St. Anthony’s on a recent Tuesday night.

When Jeannette O’Bryant’s son and daughter-in-law lost their jobs recently, she ended up taking in some of their children — and needing a hand herself to feed them.

“I didn’t know which way to turn,” says the Red Bank resident.

Eventually, she discovered the Project Loaves and Fishes food pantry run out of St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Chruch on Bridge Avenue. There, once a week, she now stocks up on groceries, but can also avail herself of everything from used clothing to a personal computer.

But just as valuable to her as the material help, O’Bryant says, is that the volunteers at the church treat their clients, all of whom must register for the program, with dignity. She tells of seeing a man once being asked to leave because he was disruptive, but not before the pantry workers were sure he had the food his family would need.

“We’re uptight, we’re frustrated, we’ve been tormented by the economy,” she tells redbankgreen while waiting in line on a recent Tuesday night. “They’re wonderful. They help you out with food and clothing, and they do it with personality and understanding.”

obryant-3Jeannette O’Bryant says the people who run the pantry are “beautiful — I love them one-hundred percent.” (Click to enlarge)

loaves-and-fishes-3Scenes from a recent Tuesday night at the food pantry, where volunteers gather for a short prayer before opening the doors. (Click to enlarge)

Pantry volunteers say they saw a spike in the number of families seeking assistance this time last year, when the economy took a nosedive. At present, some 375 families from the Red Bank region are signed up, with about 100 showing up over the course of Monday and Tuesday nights, when the pantry opens its doors. In winter, that number typically rises to 150, says Ed Markiewicz, who organizes the program with his wife, Sandy.

“Some of them get jobs in restaurants and landscaping in the summer,” he says. “If they’re working, they’re reluctant to come. They’ll say, ‘give it to someone who’s not working.'”

In July, the pantry handed out 2,200 grocery bags loaded with frozen chicken, jarred and canned vegetables and sauces and boxes of rice and other grains.

An influx of used PCs refurbished by a volunteer from Fort Monmouth recently allowed the program to drop a requirement that computers could go only to people with children. Now, singles and childless families are eligible as well, says Markiewicz, of Middletown.

The program also offers household budgeting advice, and dovetails with a youth development program run on Sundays that includes tutoring, sports at the Community YMCA and trips to cultural events.

“The only way these kids are going to get out of poverty is through education,” says Markiewicz. “But like every immigrant generation, they’ll get out.”

The Project Loaves and Fishes Ministry is hosting a Sunset Gathering cocktail fundraiser from 5 to 8p on Saturday, October 10, at the Two River Theater. All proceeds will be used to assist families in need of emergency help to stave off homelessness, pay for medicine, help offset college tuition and youth development programs. Tickets cost $25, $50 and $75. For more information about the event, contact Tiffany Perez at 732.768.8829.