In Lancaster City, there is a network of churches and community agencies that make sure there are free options for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week. These meals are a blessing for those who are homeless and/or experiencing food insecurity, and many folks depend on those meals for their food each day.
When COVID hit, some churches were left scrambling to determine how and if they could continue to provide this important service. Sit-down meals were no longer an option, and many churches relied on older or at risk volunteers to prepare and serve. One congregation in particular could not find a way to make their distributions work, and had to shut down their meals on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.
Folks at Lancaster Moravian, along with some other community partners, immediately agreed to step into the gap and provide grab-and-go meal bags during this time. Beginning in mid-March, we have distributed, on average, 125 meals each Tuesday and Saturday to folks in the community. By the end of July, we reached 5,000 meals served.
Currently, our Tuesday meals are provided by the Commons Company, a small conglomerate of restaurants and cafes that work with the Parish Resource Center in Lancaster. These meals include a turkey or ham and cheese sandwich, applesauce, a bag of chips, a sweet snack and a bottle of water. Additionally, Nissin Foods has donated two pallets of Cup O’ Noodles for us to distribute. We always keep a few nonperishable bags on hand, which include tuna packets instead of sandwiches. Meals are distributed by Lancaster Moravian Church members from tables in front of our building.
Our Saturday meals are provided by donations of items and dollars, and are packed by church volunteers and staff each week. Early on in the distribution, we received a donation of 20 cases of institutional-sized cereal boxes from Kellogg’s; that carried us through several weeks of breakfast bags. We also received a small grant from the Lancaster County Community Foundation to cover costs of food and paper products. The local food hub occasionally has items that we can use for our distributions as well, but most come through private donations that are often used to place orders picked up from various locations by Pastor Mandy or other volunteers.
Breakfast bags include a Ziploc bag of cereal, a bowl, spoon and napkin, a piece of fresh fruit or an applesauce cup, a granola bar and a breakfast cookie/biscuit. We also offer do-it-yourself PB&J bags that include two slices of bread, a pack of jelly, a pack of peanut butter, a napkin and a plastic knife. Drinks to go with breakfast include a juice box and milk.
We have had a few donations of hand sanitizer, one from a local distillery and one from a private donor, that we have been able to share with our folks. We have also received several donations of masks, so that we can make sure anyone who wants or needs a mask receives one.
We give out information sheets in both English and Spanish that alert folks to where the community meals are each day, and give the facts about the COVID-19 virus, testing and how to stay as safe as possible. We also have given out coloring sheets and crayons and, within the next couple of weeks, we will offer toiletry bags that include shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion.
We have developed meaningful relationships with so many of the people who come and receive food as well as our volunteers. We have also worked with a few of the individuals on outside supports and resources; for example, we helped a person get his unemployment situation taken care of, which will allow him to get off the streets.
We have a core group of four volunteers who are at almost every distribution, and several others who come periodically. This has allowed us to connect more deeply and learn persons’ names and stories. We are committed to continuing this ministry until Covid restrictions allow for folks to gather indoors for meals, or until the church we are standing in the gap for is ready to return. While people have been exceedingly generous, the longer we serve the more of an expense the ministry becomes. We often place requests on Facebook for our most needed items, like cereal, juice boxes, applesauce cups, bottled water, granola bars, hand sanitizer and the like. These are helpful, and the monetary donations help us to purchase the other items needed.
We have been blessed immensely by this ministry and feel God’s yes and amen over and over to our faithfulness in it! I could tell you story after story about where we have seen God’s hope during this time, because, as you will see emblazoned on the shirts of or food distribution volunteers, HOPE WILL NOT BE CANCELLED.
The Rev. Mandy Mastros is pastor of Lancaster Moravian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.