At Grace Allentown
Our food bank may have to serve as many as 10,000 people next year
By The Rev. Robert House
Sunday, December 7, 2008
It was Friday morning and I was arriving at the church to open up the administrative office. I drove past the entrance to our food bank which is open every Friday and noticed that a substantial line of people was waiting outside the door. It was one of the first chilly days of fall and I was concerned that some of the children might be cold. It was not like our volunteers to allow the clients to wait outside in bad weather. I hurried inside to see why we were allowing this situation.
When I ran downstairs and walked into the waiting area of the food bank the reason for the line became quite evident: the waiting area was packed with people. It would have been impossible to get another human being into that room.
Welcome to the realities of the recession of 2008! The floodgates of desperate human need had opened in Allentown, PA, and the people had come to Grace Episcopal Church’s food bank as others had been doing for decades, but now the numbers had just mushroomed beyond anything we had ever experienced.
We were somewhat prepared. We had served 26 percent more families in 2007 than 2006 and we were projecting a similar increase for 2008. What we were not prepared for was a 40-45 percent increase…perhaps even more by the time all the figures are examined at the end of the year.
Our preparation was to secure increased government funding, more grants from private foundations, contact more local groups like the Boy Scouts, and ask for more donations from members of our own parish as well as many from other parishes throughout the Lehigh Valley. We also took on the responsibility of a new government program for people over 65. We added another day when we would be open and then added longer hours. The challenge now was to communicate this present situation to as many people as possible.
The magnitude of the hunger problem was first brought to the attention of the congregation in the Sunday Service Bulletin. A chart was developed that helped to tell the story of the increases we had experienced. The printed information and verbal announcement at the end of the service included our appeal for more volunteers to help serve our clients. E-mails were sent to friends and all of us associated with the service told as many of our friends and relatives as possible. A small booklet was developed complete with pictures and narrative to be shared with possible donors. The usual holiday general appeal letter went out to our mailing list and two weeks later was followed by another mailing to the same list suggesting that gifts be made to the food bank as Christmas presents.
We have been more fortunate than most agencies of our type. Giving from all of our streams, while down, is not substantially lower compared to last year thanks to some unexpected large gifts from friends of the food bank who have heard the story. The problem is that we need more if we are to meet this challenge not the same giving levels that we had this year. Turning people away or giving them less food than they need for their hungry families is heartbreaking. Hunger affects all levels of our city: the homeless, retired individuals living on fixed incomes, and young people with college degrees. They have all come to the door for food.
2009 frightens me. Our little food bank in the basement of our church may have to serve as many as 10,000 people next year. One large private grant not received could shut us down. All of us who are associated with this ministry pray that the volunteers keep increasing their time and treasure as they have in the past. It is up to all of us to keep the problem of hunger in our city in front of the community and convince them not to forget this great need.
[The Rev. Robert S. House is a retired Presbyterian minister who worships at Grace Episcopal Church, Allentwown, and serves as fulltime parish administrator for the congregation.]
The Rev. Robert S. House
Grace Episcopal Church
Allentown, PA 18102