Amidst these uncertain times of COVID-19, Hope Lutheran Church in Reading Pennsylvania has provided more than food for their neighbors in need. Serving as a source of hope and encouragement for their community, the Church continues to operate its food pantry and feeding ministry in safe and creative ways. Their outstanding efforts with food assistance in a time of crisis demonstrates their dedication to lead God’s people and do God’s work to support vulnerable individuals through these challenging times.
Pastor Mary Wolfe has been with this congregation for over 13 years. “Hope is a church that resembles its neighborhood. So we are very multicultural,” she explains. “It is very population-dense. We sit on a corner of a couple bus routes and the houses are tightly packed together. We are a big stone monument surrounded by people,” she describes.
Pastor Mary explains that many of the Church’s neighbors experience poverty and unemployment. While they struggle even through the best of times, the circumstances surrounding the crisis of COVID-19 have made their typical challenges severely overwhelming. “It is vital that we not only remain on the ground offering assurance and presence but that we step up our efforts to provide the assistance our neighbors need,” Pastor Mary affirms.
COVID-19 Creates a Dramatic Increase in Need for Food Assistance
Certainly stepping up their efforts, Hope Lutheran Church saw a dramatic increase in their community’s need for food assistance since the start of the pandemic. “The food pantry went from serving an average of 200 families twice each month, to serving 350 families. This change happened very quickly,” Pastor Mary adds.
As a result, Hope Lutheran Church saw its food distribution expenses for the pantry more than double overnight. Thanks to a $30,000 grant that was awarded to Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) – Eastern PA from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Hope Lutheran Church’s feeding ministry along with three other feeding ministries in Eastern Pennsylvania will receive part of this funding to help them meet the needs of their community.
Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern PA, a ministry of Lutheran Congregational Services will use $20,000 of this grant to support four feeding ministries in Eastern PA, all affiliated with local Lutheran congregations.
- Hope’s Table and Café Esperanza in Reading
- Feast of Justice in Philadelphia
- The Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities
- Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Food Pantry in Dingman’s Ferry.
Known to the neighborhood as Hope’s Table, before the start of COVID-19, this feeding ministry would provide a community meal on the second and fourth Tuesday evening of every month. Members would gather and be served a hot meal and were welcome to stay for a worship service that followed.
“The traditional community meal and worship service of Hope’s Table had to shut down of course because we’re no longer able to gather in groups. We also had to cancel the grand opening of our Café Esperanza, which was going to serve as a pay-what-you-can café for the community. After years of construction and fundraising, we couldn’t open our doors. So, we mobilized our staff and volunteers and began preparing meals for take-out and delivery and set up the food pantry in our parking lot.”
The whole community is really looking out for each other. People will come and pick up meals for their elderly neighbor down the street who isn’t able to leave the house. Or folks will walk by and ask how they can help. It’s been really inspiring.Pastor Mary Wolfe of Hope Lutheran Church in Reading, PA
“We weren’t really sure of what was going to happen in the beginning, but we set up the tent and began serving food for take-out and delivery on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Tuesday we serve a hot meal and Thursdays are sandwiches,” Pastor Mary explains.
With a team of over 20 volunteers from the congregation, as well as support from local businesses, restaurants, and churches in the area, the way the community has come together through these challenging times has brought comfort and hope to this neighborhood. “Our volunteers are amazing. They’re so involved and everyone from the community has really risen to the challenge.”
With a local bakery donating as many as 150 rolls for sandwiches, and a restaurant nearby contributing lettuce for fresh salads, so many community members have gone above and beyond to show their support. Even the local police department, Pastor Mary shares. “One day we had a police officer drive up and he put his lights on to get everyone’s attention so they would know that we had food for them. Then before we knew it, we had three Reading police officers serving and delivering food for the entire food pantry,” Pastor Mary recalls.
As the community comes together in remarkable ways, Pastor Mary is thankful for the support that the grant from LDR will help to provide for Hope’s food pantry. With hot meals costing over three dollars per person, finding sufficient funding for food has been a challenge. “This grant has given us the encouragement that allows us to believe that if you are participating in God’s work in the world, then the means to continue to do that work will be provided.”