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Food pantries meeting area needs

Food banks have always been a vital component to the communities they serve.

But, perhaps at no time have they been quite as essential as in the last year-and-a-half since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Cars lined up in a row outside Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lehighton on a recent Tuesday morning during distribution. Regular distributions are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, and 5:30-7 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month.

Carolyn Long, food pantry coordinator at the Trinity Pantry, said they serve families in the Lehighton Area School District only, and added there are guidelines they must abide by.

“When the pandemic started, we were immediately moved into a drive-thru situation where we bagged everything inside and brought everything outside and put it right in their vehicle; we are still continuing to do that,” Long said. “We will be doing drive-thru until the end of year. I don’t know where we head after that.”

Long praised not only her helpers who have stuck it out with her over the long haul, but also those within the community for their continued support of donations.

“I have a fantastic group of people who started when the pandemic started, and they are still with me,” she said. “Our community and organizations, they have just been fantastic.”

Long said the pantry must be sure to watch what it collects.

“We haven’t been able to take canned good donations. We’re only able to take monetary donations,” she said. “But the response from our community has been fantastic.”

Considering how much of a need there’s been, Long said the food bank is in solid shape.

“We actually do have food, we have plenty of food,” she said. “This is the time of year where we have holiday food, fixings for green bean casserole, pumpkin, cranberry sauce, all the holiday type foods.”

Long said the pantry has experienced ebbs and flows since the pandemic.

More needs for holidays

“Initially, we were very busy, we kind of slowed down; now, with the holidays, it has picked up for us,” she said. “We’re serving more people starting this month. Our numbers are up, we’re doing very well.”

It’s been just as steady at the Northern Lehigh Food Bank in Emerald, where distributions take place from 1-3 p.m. the second and fourth Monday of the month; 4-6 p.m. the first, second and third Thursday of the month; and from 9:30-11:30 a.m. the last Saturday of the month.

Barbara Scheirer, director, said the food bank serves families who reside in the Northern Lehigh School District area. They must be a client, bring proof of residency, and it’s based on income levels.

“Clients used to come in and pick; there were limits on the food,” Scheirer said. “Now, we’re doing it strictly as drive-thru. We pack the box, they get in line, and we bring it out to them.”

Scheirer said they serve anywhere from one to 10 people per household, and added a lot of their clients are older adults.

“It’s starting to pick up now again with winter, but I think that’s also normal,” she said. “Of course you have more expenses in the winter, heating, things like that,”

Scheirer said the food bank can always use monetary donations, which can be sent to the Northern Lehigh Food Bank, P.O. Box 255, Slatington, PA 18080.

“We do get donations (from), schools and businesses doing food drives, and churches,” she said. “We are overseen by the Northern Lehigh Pastoral Association, and they (churches within the NLPA) from time to time have food drives.”

Scheirer said the food bank provided Thanksgiving dinner makings for 150 clients this year.

She said they will have their Christmas meal from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, and anticipates they’ll serve around the same amount of families who are clients.

Ken Kaiser, co-chair of the Christian Action Council of Palmerton Area Churches, said their food pantry supplies have been good.

“Last Friday was our Thanksgiving pantry, and we gave away 134 turkeys and all the trimmings, and also boxes of food with three or four meals in it for the other days,” Kaiser said. “We’re doing very well. We have a very good community, and have lots of food at this point.”

Kaiser said the food pantry staff feels fortunate.

“We’re lucky that we have a lot of food because in January, February and March, there’s no holidays, (which) kind of slows down donations,” he said, adding they are blessed that the Girl Scouts hold a Souper Bowl collection on Super Bowl Weekend at Country Harvest Family Market in Palmerton. “They give us a lot of food.”

Heating bills kick in

Karena Thek, director of West End Food Pantry in Kunkletown, said they’ve seen a rise in numbers lately.

“We have seen an increase in numbers, which is very typical this time of year with the heating season, as heating bills pick up,” Thek said. “We gave away about 300 Thanksgiving meals last Saturday, which is a very average number we usually do this time of year.”

Thek said the pantry is “always in need of donations.”

“We normally feed about 300 families each distribution, but 600 in the month of December,” she said. “We’re always looking for Stovetop stuffing, sweet potatoes, canned vegetables.”

Thek said she believes the pantry is in good shape, as it receives donations by way of government food, community support and business and corporation support.

“We have a high amount of donations coming in,” she said. “We’re giving a good amount of food every distribution.”

Tamaqua area

Rebecca Netznik, regional manager for the Salvation Army Schuylkill Service Center, Tamaqua, said they partner with the American Primitive Church in Tamaqua to serve food to local residents.

“We saw a record number of people coming through our Thanksgiving food distribution days,” said Netznik, who added they had 237 families come for food the week of Nov. 10, and 98 families on Nov. 17. “We were anticipating a bigger crowd; it was even bigger than we anticipated.”

Netznik said that right now they are participating in the Christmas distribution, and are supplementing the purchase of hams, having purchased 100 hams to date. She said they are looking for donors to help purchase hams for people in the area,

“Since the Salvation Army Tamaqua core building closed, our service of providing food to the community didn’t stop,” she said. “We provide additional emergency food boxes and food vouchers in between our food pantry distribution days, as needed, on a very limited basis.”

Netznik said that in order to receive food, they must be a local resident, and supply their name and the number of people who live in their household.

Distribution day is 2-5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month, and from 10 a.m. to noon, and 4-5:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month.

Carolyn Long, food pantry coordinator at Trinity Pantry in Lehighton, takes orders from clients Tuesday morning outside Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lehighton. TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS
At left, helpers Kurt Snyder and Paul Kocher load up this vehicle with food Tuesday morning outside Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lehighton. TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS