The Mary Ann Wardlow Center for Community Nutrition in Blackwood will become the hub for distributing prepared foods for the senior and disabled population of Camden County.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 8, 2023
Facing an escalating demand for prepared foods and senior services in general, the Camden County government will expand its offerings for seniors and disabled persons with a new-construction building at its Blackwood campus.
Named for Lawnside mayor Mary Ann Wardlow, the Mary Ann Wardlow Center for Community Nutrition represents a $5 million investment of federal and county funds into a dedicated meal preparation and distribution hub serving seniors and disabled people throughout the county.
Its construction will be offset by $2.8 million in federal dollars, including $1.89 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding, $475,000 in Community Project Funding grant, and $445,000 through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding.
Operationally, the Wardlow Nutrition Center will function as a warehouse, packing, and distribution center for the county Meals on Wheels program, and will be managed by existing staff, said Camden County Health Department Director Caryelle Lasher. It will also function as an emergency food storage facility to alleviate potential supply chain disruptions.
The program employs seven full-time workers, and partners with SJ Transportation for its meal delivery services.
Frances Richardson Gill of Sicklerville, who’s relied upon the county Office of Senior and Disabled Services for various programs, said she’s excited that the facility is getting an upgrade.
“I marvel that this place that I attend is going the extra mile to do something great for seniors; for anybody who’s immobile and can’t afford a meal,” Richardson Gill said. “We have a society that doesn’t even address our seniors in a way that they should be addressed.”
Wardlow, a tireless senior advocate known as “Mama Wardlow” in the community, said she was “truly honored and very, very humbled” for her name to adorn a building dedicated to community service.
“I’ve been very committed to Camden County, and most of all, I’m committed to my town,” Wardlow said. “I could not be prouder to have my name on a building providing such a critical service to the community.
“Our legacy will be forever linked with the positive change it begins to bring to the community,” she said.
The Lawnside mayor also spoke to the meaningful nature of work that connects seniors with the services dedicated to their well-being.
Her staff, family, and friends would give up their lunch time to pack up meals and deliver them to seniors in her community “because they wanted to see somebody walk up to the door and say hello,” she said.
“It’s a very hard feeling when you have nobody that comes and checks on you,” Wardlow said.
“This spot will help people. There’s still things that [seniors] can do, but they need people to be able to take them and do it.”
Camden County Commissioners Virginia Betteridge and John Young also spoke about the importance of Wardlow’s work in the community.
“Mary Ann has always had a voice for people who are underserved,” Betteridge said. “This nutritional hub is going to be the resources for everyone who would like to have a hot meal every day.”
“There isn’t a better name for this building,” Young said. “When you have a true advocate for seniors who live not only in her town, but throughout the county — Mama Wardlow, you’re second to none.”
Maureen Bergeron, Camden County Director of Senior and Disabled Services, said the county food security program outgrew its existing space during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and hasn’t retreated since.
Officials at every level of government are bracing for the impact of the “Silver Tsunami” spike in service utilization by seniors, she said.
“We have been seeing such a huge influx, and we can’t keep up,” Bergeron said. “I’m amazed at what’s happening in the world with food insecurity. Every day we’re getting more and more people needing our services.”
Currently, the food security program serves more than 2,000 clients, an increase of more than 73 percent over year-ago levels, county officials said. They estimate that the Camden County Nutritional Hub will serve 300,000 meals per year by 2025.
“We need to meet the demand better than we’re doing, so this building will help,” Bergeron said. “It’s really sad that people are struggling, and it’s just the beginning.”
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