Ed Dorman knows what it's like to struggle. Now retired, the Lansford man worked hard all his life in retail.

"A couple times I got laid off from work, and couldn't make the rent, or electric, and I needed to go get help," he recalls.

On Tuesday, Dorman sat with friends at a table in the Summit Hill Heritage Center, enjoying a meal of ham and bean soup, tuna sandwich and fruit cocktail, free of charge through Feed the People.

The meal was the first free lunch offered by the organization to those in need. The meals will be served from 10:30 a.m. to noon on the first Tuesday of each month at The Heritage Center in Summit Hill, and on the second Wednesday of each month at Trinity Lutheran Church, Lansford, and on the last Thursday of each month from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Christ Redeemer Church, Coaldale.

The meals are simple: Hot soup and a sandwich, coffee or tea, and maybe a little something for dessert.

Dorman and several other folks who live in the Lansford Mid-Rise apartments came to sample the meal, mostly to support Feed the People and help spread the word.

"The more turnout you get, the better it is for all the people. The communities need this," Dorman says.

Need is increasing

"The need has gotten greater and greater over the years," says Feed the People organizer Rita Trucios of Summit Hill.

Trucios started Feed the People after she noticed that many who seek help from the Shepherd House/Lansford Food pantry, where she also volunteers, were going hungry.

The pantry parcels out three days worth of food to families, three meals a day for each member.

Feed the People was born after Trucios began to wonder what needy families did for the remaining 27 days.

The need for help is increasing, according to federal government figures and Carbon County Shepherd House Food Pantry records.

According to the latest figures available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, Carbon County's 2010 poverty rate was 12.2 percent; Schuylkill's was 13 percent. The state average is 13.4 percent.

Also according to the ERS, 12.5 percent of Pennsylvania households suffered from "food insecurity," meaning these households report reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet, in 2010. Another 5 percent are described as having very low food security, which means missing meals and not having enough to eat. The figures, which are not broken down by county, are up about 3 percent from 2002-04.

The numbers hit close to home, Lansford food Pantry volunteers say. In 2010, the pantry provided food for 2,951 people. As of September, the pantry had already distributed food for 2,957 people, according to figures provided by Trucios.

Gratitude

Those attending the first free lunch point out were grateful for the hot meal on a bitterly cold day.

"Every little bit helps with people who need the food," says Gail Buck, who is recovering from cancer her last treatment was the day before Christmas.

Buck, at times, is compelled to visit the Panther Valley Food Pantry in Lansford to put food on the table.

"You need help once in a while," she says.

Mary-Jane Sterling found out about Feed the People through church fliers and stories in the TIMES NEWS. She was visiting her cousin, who lives across the street, and decided to come over for a bowl of soup and a sandwich.

"It's real cold and they were having bean soup. I thought, oh, that's really great for a real cold day. It's really good. I'm enjoying it," she says as she nibbles a bit of crust.

David Godin sips coffee as he chats with friends after lunch.

"With the economy the way it is, and with the job situation, people losing their jobs, they can barely afford to feed and clothe themselves. This is something where at least maybe once a week they can come in and get a nice hot meal," he says. "The meal was really good today it was excellent."

Volunteers make it happen

Volunteers made the food served at the free lunch, and donation bought the ingredients, Trucios says.

"We were very lucky. we had three new volunteers who came in today. It was wonderful," she says, finally sitting down for a bite to eat.

By 11:15, about 25 people had eaten lunch.

"Considering the weather, considering it was our first day, I'm grateful for those who came," Trucios says.

The soup kitchens are funded through the goodness of people's hearts, through donations.

"We are a community group, and we're dependent on the community to keep us going. Every dime makes a difference," she says.

Feed the People is gearing up to apply for a grant that will enable the group to serve meals to children during the summer when school, with its breakfast and lunch programs, is closed.

Trucios wants to have meals provided five days a week, "to make sure that the children in our community are fed. That's one of our goals."

She said the group appreciated the time given by Monica Marshall, branch manager of the Jim Thorpe National Bank, and by Scott Kane, branch manager of First Niagara Bank. Both banks are in Lansford.

"I was approved by my company, the Jim Thorpe National Bank, to take a few hours to volunteer because he knows I love our community," Marshall says. "This is a nice venture, nice people. God bless Rita for putting her heart and soul into this. I think it's fantastic."

Larry Mullin made the soup.

"It's something I kind of compiled together," he says. He made two big pots, enough to serve about 80 people.

Mullin is planning to make chicken noodle soup for the next lunch, to be offered at Trinity Lutheran Church, Lansford. On Jan. 26, he may make a batch of potato soup for the lunch to be offered at Christ Redeemer Church in Coaldale.

The kitchens are needed, says volunteer Mimi Marrin.

"There is such a big amount of people in the world who are going hungry. I want to help eliminate it," she says. "I want people to have something nutritious to eat for lunch instead of just a cup of coffee."