It seemed that the year 2020 was a year of tempestuous winds to navigate.
Many congregations and people were struggling to follow new regulations and to maintain social distance from acquaintances, friends, and family. For some, these regulations were easy to follow. We are all different and appreciate life and relationships in distinct ways. The struggles that we are facing during this pandemic might bring the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In the case of the Eastern PA Conference’s West Lebanon Mission Link (WLML) this pandemic provided a space for a great opportunity. As COVID-19 started to quickly spread through our world, our nation and Lebanon County, the news was about people being kept at home without incomes to sustain their families.
Some months prior to the pandemic the youth at St. Luke’s UMC had the idea to place a “blessing box*” outside the church. This box was filled with food almost every week, and it was being emptied almost as soon as it was refilled.
This small gesture pointed us to the larger idea of developing a food pantry. When the pandemic hit and people were out of work, the West Lebanon Mission Link discussed and decided there was a need to provide food. It was a need we could meet as a group by creating a food pantry.
We committed volunteers and as much financial support as each congregation could afford. The participating congregations are:
- Mountville UMC, Pastor Bob Howard,
- Kauffman UMC, Pastor Bill McNeal,
- Ebenezer UMC, Pastor Jeff Kapp,
- St. John’s UMC, Pastor Matthew Whayland, and
- St. Luke’s UMC, Pastor Bruny Martinez.
Joining Martinez in coordinating the effort is Isaias “Jesse” Davila, who managed the food pantry and meal service ministry at Neuva Creacion (New Creation) UMC in Lancaster (where Martinez was once the pastor).
Our efforts began, and when an appeal for help from Lebanon County Christian Ministries was unsuccessful, West District Lay Leader Sue Grimm Mattox informed us of Blessings of Hope in Leola. We contacted them, and almost immediately the food distribution started.
Volunteers and pastors from the mission link congregations began helping on a regular basis. Non-perishable items arrive weekly. Perishable items arrive on the day of distribution, the last Monday of each month.
The pantry consistently serves 50 families. Volunteers pack the food and distribute it in the parking lot. Cars pull in, and we place bags in the cars with minimal contact as a precaution during the pandemic.
For 2021 the WLML successfully applied for a grant from the Conference Urban Commission** and sought other monies to improve the food pantry. A local foundation provided monies for equipment: shelves, a refrigerator, and a freezer, allowing us to get perishable items ahead of time. Other contributors are Lebanon’s P.E.O. women’s organization, our congregations and individuals who believe in this ministry.
As the pandemic evolves into a new “norm” we will add other features to the food pantry, such as information-sharing about food preparation, recipes and nutrition.
This effort is possible because of our connectional church. Each congregation is relatively small, with limited resources. But together we can impact our communities and people’s lives. In Scripture James 3:4 tells us, “A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds.”
In the middle of life’s storms we can make a difference and show God’s love in many ways, ultimately demonstrating who we are in Christ. And good things can result when adversity hits if we work together.
*Blessing Boxes are honor system food pantries where people can take food who are in need. Also, this is an easy way for those who want to help others to donate non-perishable food.
** The next round of Urban Ministry grant applications are due May 31. Learn the guidelines.