St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Pantry Plays an Important Part in Feeding Families This Holiday Season | News, Sports, Jobs

CHRIS MORELLI / THE EXPRESS Tonia Royer, Elder Ames and Betsy Tompkins pack food during Wednesday’s food distribution at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Mill Hall.

MILL HALL – Like elves in a workshop, volunteers filled boxes and bags in the basement of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Wednesday morning. Christmas is just a few days away, but the boxes and bags weren’t filled with toys. No, those boxes and bags were full of food – everything from turkeys and hams to cereals and preserves were packed and carried through the back door of the church to the cars waiting for their chests to be filled.

Betsy Tompkins, one of the co-administrators of the food bank, took a five-minute break to pack the boxes and direct traffic in the pantry to discuss her success. The pantry operates the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.

The food, Tompkins explained, comes from a variety of sources.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things. We have agency funding; we are a partner agency with the Central PA Food Bank, which allows us to obtain things ”, she said. “We also get things from the federal government as well as from local sources.”

Local sources, Tompkins said, are big box stores, such as Weis Markets, as well as smaller stores, such as Mark’s Meats and Ingram’s Market. They also get a plethora of food from Amish and local farms.

CHRIS MORELLI / THE EXPRESS Wayne McCullough of Lock Haven stands by the door to St. Paul’s Food Pantry during Wednesday’s distribution. It was the last food distribution of 2021.

Each box of food is packaged with love and care, Tompkins said.

“We have people who have special dietary needs. We have people with celiac disease, we have people without salt, and people who cannot have sugar. We also have people to whom we deliver. It’s getting a little crazy, but we try to accommodate everyone. Tompkins said.

That day, the distribution of food began at 9 a.m. Like a well-oiled machine, the volunteers brought clipboards with controls into the pantry. The boxes and bags were then filled with the requested items. The boxes and bags were then carried up the stairs, the cars were loaded and sent on the way.

Reverend Karl Runser spoke about how the pantry works in the COVID-19 era.

“We had to retool the way we operate almost a year and a half ago. We knew we wanted to continue during the pandemic, but we also knew that we had to change the number of contacts we have with people ”, Runser said.

In previous years, Runser said, people would walk into the pantry, pick and choose whatever they wanted, almost like a free supermarket. The pandemic, of course, changed all that. The pantry simply swiveled, moving to a drive-thru version of itself.

“We now have curbside delivery because of all this”, Runser said.

The pantry was forced to begin curbside delivery in the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 made its presence known in the United States. Since then, Runser said, the needs have increased.

“From spring to late summer 2020, we saw an increase in the number of registrants who came for food. The number rose to about 250. I can’t tell you the number of households, but about 250 people were coming. It’s a little down now, but it’s still above the level when we entered the pandemic phase of it ”, Runser said.

According to Runser, the second distribution day of the month “Usually sees more people”. He estimates that “40 to 48” people come by the church grounds to distribute food.

As for the cast, Runser said it would be impossible to do without all the volunteers.

“It’s really a team effort. We have some great volunteers who have learned the new system and really embraced it. They talk to people in the vehicles collecting the food. They get the food and make their choices in their own hands. We can do it at a faster pace, but we can really keep that relationship going ”, Runser said.

That day, a dozen volunteers moved the process forward. From unpacking or organizing the items to packing the boxes and loading into the cars, everything went very smoothly.

Judy Briggs of Mill Hall was one of those volunteers helping to pack the food.

” I like helping people “, Briggs said. “There are families and seniors who are struggling and if we can help them, we do. I love doing it for the whole community.

Donna Jeirles, also of Mill Hall, worked alongside Briggs.

“The more you can help people, the better off you feel” Jeirles said. “You get to know people and it’s like extended family, really. “

Wednesday’s cast was the last of 2021. They will resume in January 2022.

Tompkins wasn’t sure how much food was handed out on Wednesday. She felt that they distributed “Thousands of pounds of food”.

“We had a few thousand pounds delivered here yesterday”, she said. “Food is constantly coming. It’s more vacation-focused and we like to do it because kindness matters. “

For more information on the pantry, call (570) 736-7460.

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Jerry B. Hatch