By Richard Partheymuller II
On a cold, Wednesday morning, Seamus sat on the ledge of the Episcopal Christ Church in Woodbury off of Broad Street. With his medium-sized cup of coffee, he waited for a shuttle bus to take him from that street corner to go food shopping.
The 76-year-old veteran, who didn’t want to give his last name, said he served in the Korean War and Vietnam War.
With his long, gray hair, mustache, and beard, sunglasses, shorts, and a metal prosthetic leg going from the left knee down into a shoe, Seamus said he has had experienced issues with the Gloucester County Division of Social Services, which distributes his food stamps.
“I don’t make a lot. I’m very poor but I get a break on my housing. I got a $20 raise last year and I had $80 worth of food stamps and they dropped me down to $16 worth of food stamps. So, the logic of that just blew my mind. So, they sent me this paper this year, that I have to get all of this information all just to get $16 worth of food stamps so I said “to hell with it” and just said told them to forget about it,” Seamus said.
Seamus said that there is clearly a class divide when it comes to the affordability of food. In the vicinity of Broad St. are 19 eateries. These range from fast-food hotspots such as Burger King, Arby’s, Crown Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hut, to higher-end restaurants such as Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill, Golden Palace, and Mt. Fuji Japanese
“I think that for the most part, you either have several restaurants that cater to a much more economically-inclined class,” Seamus said. “So, the people who are not that well-off in Woodbury, their diet suffers accordingly. They end up eating a lot of salty foods. They end up becoming part of the healthcare system’s problem. It’s been going on for a couple of years. The rich eat well, they don’t get sick, the poor don’t eat well, they do get sick.”
According to neighborhoodscout.com, 18.6 percent of people living in Woodbury are below the poverty line. About 15.88 percent make an income less than $15, 000 and 5.20 percent of the city is unemployed, according to bestplaces.net. In order to qualify for the Food Stamps program in New Jersey, the person’s income must be below $15, 301, if they are a family of one, and must be under $20, 709 if they are a family of two to qualify, according to welfareinfo.org.
Woodbury holds three judicial buildings along and around Broad Street as well. These include the Gloucester County Superior Court, Gloucester County Courthouse, and the Administrative Office-Courts. Comparatively, the street holds eight bus stops, many of which are utilized by those who are impoverished in Woodbury.
Among these are Thomas Reed, of Woodbury and James Stokes, of Camden. Reed said that the churches, such as those involved with the Greater Woodbury Cooperative Ministries, will serve meals. Stokes said that these meals are limited.
“They got a food pantry, but you only get that once a month. You can only go once a month. It’s not like Camden. See, I’m from Camden. In Camden, you get food everyday,” Stokes said.
Reed said that general, or non-food related, help from those churches is also in short-supply because according to Reed, “everybody’s struggling.” Both Reed and Stokes said that the city of Woodbury has “taken the park benches.”
“They took the park away. They say you can’t even sit in the park no more. I can’t even sit in the park and just relax and drink,” Reed said.
Reed said that there are racial undertones to the struggles faced in Woodbury. He said that he has experienced harassment and name-calling, one of which he called “ignorant.”
“They took everything away, that’s simple as that. They came to be, I hate to say it, they came to be racial but that’s the thing, I don’t really want to come out and say it but yes, they did.” Reed said.
Those who are facing food insecurity in Woodbury and in the South Jersey area can reach out to local churches and food banks listed here.