Sermon by Archdeacon Rick Cluett
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Trinity Bethlehem Soup Kitchen Report

January 2015
The Rev. Elizabeth Miller, Deacon
Marcie Lightwood, Social Worker

The Soup Kitchen at Trinity is a community – Trinity’s “second congregation.”

More than 150 people eat lunch together each weekday, served by a team of volunteers that number 55-75 over the course of a week.

Volunteers are essential to the work that the soup kitchen does. Each day there is a head cook and usually 5 – 7 others who chop vegetables, assemble salads, make dressings, prepare fruit salad, cook main dishes, make up plates, serve beverages, make coffee, carry trays, and wash dishes. The preparations begin at 8:30 a.m. and lunch is served noon to 1:00. Cleanup is usually done by 2:30 in the afternoon. That is a compact and fast-paced work day for a large handful of people, but it is not everything that happens.

Each day, a different volunteer drives to Fresh Market in the Promenade shops to pick up donated groceries. Some of it is used in the noontime meal, but most of it is taken home by our guests from tables set up and supervised by another set of volunteers. That assures us that our friends have nutritious food to eat at home as well as for lunch with us.

The Trinity guests can access non-food needs through the social worker. There are several volunteers who help with that aspect of ministry. Some help give out shampoo, OTC pain relievers, cough drops, razors and sanitary needs. Many businesses and congregations have set up drives to collect grooming products and winter accessories to benefit the poor and homeless people we serve.  Once a month, the women of St. Anne’s bring clean, sorted used clothing for guests.

It is by faith that we continue to operate. God is good, and we have a few generous donors: A few parishioners who give monthly and holiday gifts, one of our neighbors sends in $50 a month, and a former parishioner who lives out of state who joyfully gives several thousand dollars a year.  There are several angels from around the Diocese of Bethlehem and the rest of the community who regularly support the work of the soup kitchen. We hold an annual benefit concert, when talented community musicians give of their time and talent and an unnamed friend of the soup kitchen matches all ticket sales. The anonymous foundation continues to support us, although for a lesser amount. We applied to the United Way for funding in 2014 and although we were not selected, we were encouraged to apply again. Our finances are always cause for concern.

Second Harvest Food Bank has been carrying us by not billing us the usual shared maintenance fee and giving us as much of a share of the mixed grants they receive. Our volunteer cooks often have to await the arrival of Fresh Market produce so that they can make salads and fruit to serve. We are stretching every dollar in this way by not buying food, but using donations immediately. The soup kitchen is also in need of a new van. The old one is 15 years old and is no longer safe to transport heavy loads of food from the food bank and other donors. Please join Deacon Liz in her prayers that somehow we can obtain a safe and usable van before the end of this winter.

Partnerships with other organizations add to what we can offer our guests.  Students from Moravian College School of Nursing, Cedar Crest and Northampton Community College  serve guests in ways that contribute to their coursework, often providing educational workshops on health concerns. Moravian Academy students, our neighbors, donate apple pies in the fall, holiday goodies, and make bag lunches for our guests to have over weekends. Students from Northeast Middle School brought in nearly 200 blankets. The charity knitters groups and other knitters generously give many, many hats, mittens and scarves to keep folks warm. The brownie troop and the associated Girl Scouts have donated diapers needed by families with young children.

The ministry to our guests is one where success is difficult to measure.  Feeding 150-170 people a good meal every day is one measure. How we affect lives is another. We feel really good about Jeff, who last year had a three pack-a-day cigarette habit and weighed less than 100 pounds. We talked to him over the course of a few weeks when Deacon Liz and Marcie took him to doctors and hospitals. Because he knewthat we cared about him, Jeff cut down to six to eight cigarettes a day, and with the help of nutritional supplements we gave him, he has regained both his health and 35 pounds.

Leanne was evicted from her apartment, lost all of her ID, exhausted her available money, ran out of medications, stopped taking care of herself and began a descent into failing health and homelessness. Deacon Liz and Marcie Lightwood took Leanne to the hospital and doctor’s visits, visited her during a prolonged stay, helped get her into a programmed shelter, got her replacement identification cards, and help her manage her money. After a very rough two months, Leanne is back to functioning.

Sometimes the help we give our guests means we will not see them again. We have helped folks get boots for work so they could get good jobs and support themselves. As a result of those experiences, the social worker obtained several gift cards to Payless Shoe Stores so that we could quickly meet that need should it again arise. Many times we provided clothing vouchers so people could get the clothing they needed to work.

We have spent endless hours on the phone to advocate for client needs. We have helped folks get into apartments, get telephones, sign up for medical benefits and check on employment options.

And what is the best thing we do with our second congregation? We celebrate! Every holiday is celebrated with special food, entertainment and decorations. The Trinity Soup Kitchen is a community, a place where those without family and friends can come and be a part of something warm and special. It is about so much more than food.

 

 

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