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Secret Santa Shop part of Saturday’s distribution at the West End Food Pantry

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    Lexi Bock, Rylee Rockwell and Toni Dowling, volunteers from Cornerstone Community Church in Kresgeville, wrap gifts for 18-month-old Jake Gonzalez of Kunkletown during Saturday’s Secret Santa Shop. He was shopping with his mom, Jessica Gonzalez. STACI L. GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

Published December 20. 2018 12:28PM

The West End Food Pantry felt a little like Santa’s workshop at the North Pole as volunteers, clients and children get ready for Christmas.

Inside the Secret Santa Shop, children picked out two items to give as gifts to their parents, caregivers or other loved one. The variety of gifts included lotion, puzzles, coffee mugs, candles, gloves and ice scrapers.

“It’s amazing. It makes us not so sad,” said Jessica Gonzalez while her son Jake picked out something for her and his dad.

Eighteen-month-old Jake is hoping Santa brings him anything Paw Patrol, Gonzalez said. He loves the TV show.

Once they selected gifts, youth group members and volunteers from Cornerstone Community Church in Kresgeville wrapped the gifts.

“This is our first time wrapping gifts, but we have volunteered here pushing the carts before,” said Jeremiah Dowling, youth pastor.

Volunteers donned elf hats, Santa hats, blinking light necklaces, and reindeer antlers as they handed out the usual food items, including meats, bread, canned goods, macaroni and cheese, milk, eggs, and fresh vegetables.

“I love it. I was excited to get up this morning and get here. I knew we would be giving out a lot of coats, stocking stuffers and food today,” said Shirley Krum, the volunteer in the gymnasium who hands out the numbers and makes announcements through a megaphone.

Irene Taylor, who has been volunteering at the food pantry about a year, did a little festive dance near the boxes of Pop Tarts and cereal while waiting to put them in a client’s cart.

“It is fabulous to be here seeing the kids get presents for their family. Simply breathtaking,” Taylor said.

The Christmas spirit was apparent from one end of the hallway to the next. Volunteers and clients chatted and wished each other a Merry Christmas.

With a big smile and jolly giggle, volunteer Melissa Ruschak handed out mashed potatoes and green beans.

It was also a special day because Jessica Dokachev, director of Second Harvest Food Bank in East Allen Township, came for a visit with a tour from Karena Thek, director of West End Food Pantry.

Second Harvest provides food to all the emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters in six Pennsylvania counties — Monroe, Carbon, Lehigh, Wayne, Pike and Northampton.

Thek showed Dokachev the small closet they first kept food in and fed 37 families from when the pantry originated.

Then the pantry expanded into the Community Room. Later, Eldred Township saw their need and offered more space inside the Eldred Township Community Center. Now, the pantry feeds about 275 families on distribution days.

The thrift store allows the pantry to continue with minimum rent, Thek said.

“Karena and her volunteers do a stupendous job here. It’s so organized. She makes sure it is all healthy to feed a family,” Dokachev said.

Ben Harrison has been a food pantry volunteer and Second Harvest employee for a little over a year.

“It was nice to walk in here and see one of my staff,” Dokachev said. “It’s heartwarming to see that he does it all week and then comes here to volunteer.”

On Saturday, Harrison was handing out bags of onions to clients. During the week, he works in the warehouse and is a delivery driver.

“It’s enjoyable to help the community. I volunteer here as many Saturdays as I can,” he said.

The food pantry is located inside the Eldred Township Community Center in Kunkletown. For more information, see

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