4/10 UPDATE: Long Memorial UMC purchases the pre-pack boxes from Blessings of Hope at a reduced rate. During the current COVID-19 crisis, Blessings of Hope is providing the food to the church without requiring immediate payment, but the church will ultimately need to pay BOH for the food. Financial donations are being accepted through the Long Memorial UMC website link at end of article.
(Lititz, PA-LititzDailyNews.com) – Last Friday night, Long Memorial United Methodist Church gave out 4,000 pounds of free food in 45 minutes, four times the amount of food that they typically distribute during their “Free Grocery Friday,” a ministry that’s feeding those in need in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Tonight, they expect the Free Food Friday food distribution to double. A free spaghetti dinner will also be distributed in to-go containers this evening to those who come for free groceries from 6 to 7 p.m.
“It’s free food, it’s God’s food, it’s not ours,” said Ian Solodky, the “Free Grocery Friday” ministry coordinator whose enthusiasm for helping others through the curbside food distribution is, for lack of a better word, contagious.
Last Friday, a full two weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, Pastor Nelson Berrios stood along busy Lititz Pike wearing his Philadelphia Eagles gear and blue disposable gloves, waving passing motorists into the parking lot at Long Memorial United Methodist Church to receive what the hand-painted sign beside him offered: free groceries.
Over 80 drivers pulled in. Cars reportedly began lining up for food last Friday at 5:30 p.m. Supplies ran out before the hour-long giveaway ended.
“This is neighbors helping neighbors,” said Solodky. “We’re not sending the food to New York, we’re not sending it to Zimbabwe, this is our neighbors who are hungry.”
Tonight, April 3, and every Friday after that, Long Memorial UMC will distribute groceries to those who come, regardless of income. Church leaders are adding additional distribution days and increasing the food on hand to meet the growing demand.
“Due to our prediction that there will be an increased need for this service we’re going to start on April 7th doing every Tuesday and Friday at 6 p.m. for the free food for the community,” said Solodky. The church is located at 2660 Lititz Pike between Lancaster and Lititz.
The process is simple and streamlined: no forms, no income verification, and no red tape.
“Here at Long Memorial United Methodist Church, we don’t care if you come in a BMW or a bicycle, this is God’s food and it’s for you,” said Solodky.
Meeting the grocery needs of the community is nothing new to this church.
Long Memorial UMC has been giving away groceries weekly at their “Free Food Friday” for a long time: long before COVID-19, long before millions lost their jobs in the wake of the viral epidemic, and long before panicked buyers cleared groceries off of local store shelves.
The only thing that has changed is that the pickup process, which used to take place in the church basement, is now held outdoors in light of the epidemic. Pastor Berrios sees it as a plus.
“It gets us outside of the church,” he said, helping his congregation to engage more with the community. Nearby, forsythias bloomed in the warm spring air.
Drivers wound their way through orange cones to the contact-free distribution point where volunteers placed 50-plus pounds of donated food from local grocers and a food ministry into cars. All drivers need to do is pop open their trunk with room to receive.
In addition to the hefty box of “mystery food,” as Solodky calls it–which includes a variety of staples–patrons receive fresh vegetables, eggs, milk, cheese, baked goods, and snacks.
Solodky tells recipients to pass on to neighbors anything that they don’t want to keep.
“We want them to put in on their neighbor’s doorstep and help their neighbors out,” he said.
The food is all generously donated by local grocers Giant and Oregon Dairy, as well as purchased from the Blessings of Hope Ministry in Leola at reduced cost.
“Tonight 4,000 pounds of food went into the community, without any cost to the community, all because of the hard work of the volunteers that we have working with us, and because of the community and Long Memorial putting that money forward for the food,” he said.
Two weeks ago, the church had food left over after the Friday night distribution, which they then delivered to residents of a local development who were in need. Last week, they ran out of food. This week, the church expects the demand to double, as people grapple with loss of income, jobs, and dwindling supplies.
While state and federal relief for many has been approved, that cash is not yet in the hands of families and individuals in need, forcing families to suddenly be faced with food insecurity. Many in the community don’t know when, or if, they will work again.
When asked how he feels seeing these needs being met in the community, he became emotional.
“I do this because Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and he’s asking me to do this to help my community,” Solodky said. “It brings me to tears when I know there’s people that are hungry normally, but now people who normally are able to buy food for themselves and they don’t have that next paycheck.”
Most who received the free groceries last week mentioned having lost their jobs. “What we’re giving the people is not only food, but we’re giving them hope,” said Pastor Barrios.
He and Solodky are hoping that others will step up to support their ministry to the community, through financial giving or volunteering to help during the distribution.
Those who wish to donate financially may do so via the Long Memorial UMC website , where you can donate directly to the food ministry by clicking on the green “give online” button, then clicking on the dropdown menu next to “general fund.” The food ministry link is at the bottom of the list.
Solodky would like to receive food donations from grocery stores or restaurants as well. Those with food to donate, or who would like to volunteer, should call the church at 717-569-2931. And there’s one more item he’s seeking: party coolers to keep donated produce cold.
“Since we’re not allowed to have parties right now, why don’t you let Long Memorial Church borrow it, put your name on it, and we’ll get it back to you as soon as COVID-19 is over,” he said.
Pastor Berrios wants the community to know that his church is there for them, even though Sunday services are now online. “You can still connect with us on Facebook, on YouTube, we’ll be live streaming our services on those outlets.”
Solodky’s call to action for those who need food is simple and straightforward: “Come, Friday, 6, be there.”
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