The Bethlehem Area Moravians (BAM) Freezer Ministry began in 2010 when members of East Hills Moravian Church froze leftovers from church dinners to distribute to those who might appreciate a meal at a later time.
In 2016, the ministry collaborated with then student intern, Frank Shipman, and expanded to include cooks from all BAM churches, who would gather in the East Hills kitchen for specific preparation and cooking days and production of a large quantity of meals. The meals went back to the BAM church kitchens and were distributed as needed. These included situations such as neighbors in difficult situations, folks recently hospitalized, those who suffered the loss of a loved one, new parents or those who resided in nearby low-income housing.
Cooking five or six full days a year kept the BAM church freezers filled with soups and other comfort foods, including many portions of pasta and rice casseroles- easy to reheat and enjoy. Some of the cooks who participated were not Moravians, and perhaps not Christians; some cooks were themselves food recipients from the Freezer Ministry during the past year who had fallen on difficult times.
As the need grew in the community and word about the Freezer Ministry spread through the BAM churches and neighborhoods, the number of meals produced exceeded 3,000 servings a year. Realizing the growing need, Bob Wingrove, long-time chef and food guru at East Hills Moravian, connected with Dan Soos, BAM CEO and the executive chef at Moravian Village. Combining their resources, the ministry’s production increased by one-third in a month’s time!
In February 2020, BAM provided financial resources as well as a second commercial freezer to the East Hills’ kitchen to help with the storage of ingredients and production of the meals. The freezer and the funding arrived just as the COVID-19 virus did and again food requests increased dramatically. Bob Wingrove and several others have organized the distribution to many individuals and larger locations, such as Moravian Towers.
With the onset of COVID-19 and the safety restrictions it requires, we recognized the cooking days could not continue as in the past. Having 20-25 people in the kitchen was not a safe or legal solution. To continue this ministry, Wingrove organized five small cooking groups of three-four people each. And while practicing social distancing, wearing masks and extra sanitizing in the already ServSafe kitchen, they are now producing and distributing more than 500 meals each week. Over the last four months since the pandemic began, this dozen or so Moravians have produced and delivered thousands of meals to anyone who needs or would appreciate them. As we enter the second half of 2020, the BAM Freezer Ministry has prepared and distributed 10,000 meals!!
This mission has blossomed into an every-day activity. Recently, Wingrove and others created a cooking and distribution calendar and inventory-tracking methods for ingredients purchased, meals prepared and meals distributed. This allows him to plan his shopping, cooking and distribution a month at a time. Currently, partners receiving weekly, bi-weekly or monthly deliveries are the Central Moravian Food Pantry, Lutheran Manor, Moravian Towers, Northeast Community Center Pantry, the Bethlehem Emergency Shelter Homeless Program, the Bethlehem YMCA, the Salvation Army, two Southside distribution centers, our individual neighbors and friends of any or no religion and countless individuals in neighborhoods from Easton to Allentown to Coopersburg.
Wingrove expects the current need for meals to continue for some time, and to a lesser degree, long after the current health restrictions are lifted. He expects that the ministry will prepare and deliver more than 20,000 meals during this year of COVID-19. While the ministry is stronger than ever, and the partnership with BAM has allowed much of the production to continue, Bob is always looking for donations of money or products, best prices on meats and other supplies. He welcomes individuals from any BAM congregation who would like to participate in a cooking day at East Hills Church.
The Moravian community has supported this ministry by attending the annual fund-raising Harvest Dinner at East Hills along with vital donations from individuals and churches. Every step in the process—from chopping vegetables to ladling soup into a quart container, or handing one single container to a hungry person—is a fulfilling and satisfying experience. Each container is prepared with love, care and a prayer. Each meal is handed out with a smile and gratitude for the personal connection made in friendship and faith.
As soon as it can safely be done, the now ten-year old ministry will gather the larger groups of folks from all BAM churches for the regular shared cooking experience. Meanwhile, the BAM Freezer Ministry continues to serve, sharing nutritious meals with those in need. Why do we cook? We cook because we are called to serve and we answer that call by inspiring, comforting, offering relief and assurance of Jesus’ love through food. n
Janice Schanck is a member of East Hills Church and an original participant in the Freezer Ministry. She mostly oversees inventory and distribution of prepared meals and is available to meet any community member at East Hills Church for food pick-up or delivery.