Burlington Township NJ Food Pantry gets major facelift

BURLINGTON TWP. – Carol Zulla taught Eric Pew when he was in kindergarten at B. Bernice Young Elementary School. She was later the principal at the Neck Road school in town.

A co-founder of the Burlington Township Food Pantry, along with her late husband Domenic, also the former food pantry director, Zulla never thought that one day her former student would be involved with one of the biggest assists she could ever imagine.

Now a Burlington Township police officer, Pew helped facilitate a relationship with nearby Burlington Stores (now just called Burlington), which led to a much-needed and complete renovation of the food pantry at 1200 Route 130 North. The heavy duty facelift included a new roof, doors, HVAC system, fire alarm system, new paint, signage, new flooring, a new parking lot, new bathrooms and so much more.

“The Burlington Stores have been an absolute godsend to us,” Carol Zulla said. “My husband would be very, very happy. This was his goal. This was his dream. Without the Burlington Stores and all the support, we would not be here.”

They acquired the building about five years ago, she explained, first using it rent-free thanks to Burlington, which did not charge the pantry.

“Here at the Burlington Township Food Pantry, we acquired this building about five years ago. We first had it as a rental that we did not pay rent on but the Burlington Stores allowed us to use it. Then my husband, who passed away two years ago, used to say, ‘Oh, give us the building.’ They’d said we don’t know what we’re going to do with the building. One day, they called and said ‘we’re giving you the building for the pantry.’ That was probably one of the happiest days of his life and one of the saddest days because he realized, uh oh, now we have this building, now we’re responsible for all the utilities and all the upkeep and all the maintenance.”

Pew’s father Jay is a senior director of the facilities department with Burlington Stores, which utilized its vendors and other relationships to make the revamp happen. While the pantry, manned by a group of dedicated volunteers, has been open throughout with very few exceptions, the grand opening celebration was Sept. 23.

The pantry offers food assistance to those who live and work in the Burlington area. Food distribution is Wednesdays from 9 to 11 a.m.

How it happened

In October 2020, conversations were initiated with Burlington Stores’ corporate office on the possible renovation of the food pantry building, which had also at times housed the Burlington Coat Factory and a car dealership.

The Burlington Stores facilities team undertook the project coordinating with several of their key national vendors. Nearly 30 companies and vendors, including Burlington Stores, have donated more than $900,000 towards the renovation of the cavernous 20,000 square-foot building.

Carol Zulla, co-founder of the Burlington Township Food Pantry, along with her late husband Domenic, is shown. Zulla, a former teacher and administrator in the township, is thrilled with the major renovation the pantry endured, thanks to Burlington Stores.

“In 2020 when we had our food drive called ‘Handcuff Hunger,’ Domenic and Carol were there,” Eric Pew recalled. “I asked them where the monetary donations go. A lot of times, they use the cash donations to buy the hams and turkeys they don’t get donated for the holidays. Domenic said, ‘The leftover money, I put to the side for a roofing fund.’ They knew they needed a new roof. My dad, being in the facilities corporate world for so many years, I know capital projects like a new roof will cost a pretty penny. For them to amass the donations to pay for that would take a long time.”

Eric asked his dad what he thought about Burlington coming back and doing a roof repair. He suggested that perhaps one of Burlington’s roofing contractors would be willing to donate supplies or the labor and they could end up with a brand-new roof.

“That was the initial conversation, just with the generosity and kindness of my dad and the rest of the Burlington staff and team there, it turned into a complete renovation of the building, which I never expected,” said Eric Pew, the community resource officer with the Burlington Township police.

“For us, this is a pleasure to perform for the community and for Carol and her team,” Jay Pew said. “Being that we fix stores, it wasn’t easy fixing this place because it was pretty old. But we started with the roof and we realized the air conditioning needed to be fixed, so we leveraged 26 vendors and some gave things for free and some we had to participate in sharing the cost. We had to put in a new fire alarm system. We fixed the floors. Halfway through the job, we had a flood on Route 130 and all the sewage came into the building. So all the dry wall on this whole place was cut up three feet high and had to be all replaced.”

‘We’re going to do the repairs for you at no cost’

“My husband passed away, the next week, Eric called me up and said, ‘Can you meet me at the pantry?’” Zulla said. “He said I just want to walk around and look at it. That’s what he did.”

Two weeks after that, Eric Pew asked her to return. She came with her son and other family members and said there were a bunch of men with suits on and holding clipboards. Jay Pew introduced himself and said they wanted to walk around and look at the different things that could be done.

The Burlington Township Food Pantry got a major renovation with huge help from Burlington Stores.

“At the end of their walkaround, they said, ‘Give us a wish list,’ ” Zulla recalled. “We made a list of things that had to be repaired. Before we left, we were told, ‘We’re going to do the repairs for you at no cost.’ “

And they did just that.

Burlington also donates new sample merchandise throughout the year, which also helps with the pantry’s mission to provide clothing to those in need as well.

The Burlington Township Food Pantry initially was located in a storage space along the Burlington Bypass, Zulla said, then moved to the old Burlington Center Mall. When the mall was on its last legs (it has since been demolished), the pantry was forced to move quickly on short notice, Zulla said, and ended up finally landing at the building on Route 130.

“We had nowhere to go,” Zulla said. “We were on the news, somehow, somebody from the Burlington Stores saw that. Two days later, we got the phone call from the Burlington Stores. This is our final place. We’re not moving. This is our home.”

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Jay Pew added. “We have a few tweaks here and there… We’re pretty happy about the opportunity to be able to do this.”

A wall outside of the Burlington Township Food Pantry is shown. The pantry is located at 1200 Route 130 North in Burlington Township.

Celeste E. Whittaker is a news features reporter for the Courier Post, Daily Journal and Burlington County Times. The South Jersey native started at the CP in 1998 and has covered the Philadelphia 76ers, college and high school sports and has won numerous awards for her work. Reach her by email at  cwhittaker@gannettnj.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cp_CWhittaker.

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