MIDDLETOWN — Calling attention to twin problems in lower Monmouth and upper Ocean counties that were exacerbated by COVID-19 and threaten to worsen as the winter months approach, the local Lions Club is focusing efforts for the next two months on a two-pronged program.

It is called the Harvest of HOPE Community Outreach Initiative, HOPE standing for Helping Other People Excel, and incorporates a partnership with the township's Investor Savings Bank branch.

Also key to the process is the Community Outreach Group, a collection of 12 religious congregations in Middletown.

Beverly Bova Scarano is president of both that organization and the Lions Club, and she recognizes the urgency needed to assist those who are food insecure or without housing.

"We're definitely pushing now, because we need to get a jump on it," Scarano said. "It's no good during winter."

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For October, the initiative is first asking the community for items to satisfy a food drive: cereal, canned goods, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, pasta and sauce, and shelf-stable milk and juices, among other foods.

Collection bins at the Investors Savings Bank and the Middletown Reformed Church will be gathered up after Oct. 30 and distributed to multiple pantries, including the Calico Cat in town.

Continuing through Nov. 30 will be the Lions Club's goal to provide things like sleeping bags, warm blankets, coats, and tents to area homeless populations. Those can also be left at the Middletown Reformed Church.

Scarano said she has seen many more people volunteering to help the less fortunate in their communities during the pandemic, as everyone understands the hardships brought on by COVID-related job losses.

"They want to do something, whether it's bringing food or bringing a tent or bringing a warm coat or whatever," she said.

To help or to find out more information, visit mlions.org or call 908-896-1682.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.