By Jack Firneno
Wire Staff Writer
Lehman United Methodist Church in Hatboro gets a visit from Annie every Tuesday morning — “10 a.m. on the dot,” according to Bethany Lawless, the church’s office manager. Anne is a regular at the church’s food pantry, one of the largest in Hatboro.
People who show up during the pantry’s hours during the week get one bag each filled with canned goods and other non-perishables. But, the church often makes an exception for Anne. “She has diabetes and her son is getting a heart transplant,” explained Lawless. “So, we always try to give her two bags, one for each of them.”
However, giving two bags to Annie — or even one to the pantry’s many other regulars — has been harder than ever this year.
Lehman Methodist is just one of the food pantries in Hatboro currently facing a severe supply shortage. On average, Lehman gives away between 175 and 198 bags a month. This September, they gave away 203.
“The need has been becoming greater and greater. More and more people are coming in all the time,” said Pastor Nancy Ludwig. “Somehow God always provides, but any help we can get from the community is appreciated. It’s hard for our congregation to supply so much.”
Fortunately they, along with St. John Lutheran Church, St. Catherine of Siena and St. John Bosco, are getting extra help this year from local community groups.
One of the biggest community contributors to local food pantries has been the Hatboro Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber recently wrapped up its annual food drive and already has a second effort in the works.
“[Two weeks ago] I spent an hour at Lehman learning about their supply and demand,” explained Kathy Selemno, the Vice President of Hospitality for the Chamber. It turned out their usual fall food drive was coming just in time: “When it gets colder they need more food. We just always did it in October because it was a nice thing to do,” she said.
However, having seen the challenges the food pantries are facing, Selemno and the Chamber are teaming up with local Boy Scout troops to introduce a new approach to their food drive. Last week, the Chamber mailed out fliers and bags to nearly 5,000 homes in the Hatboro area. Residents who would like to contribute canned goods and toiletries can put them in the bags and leave them outside on their homes for volunteers to pick them up on the morning of November 16. And, Boy Scout troops marching in Hatboro’s Holiday Parade on November 24 will also be collecting non-perishables.
“We’re hoping that people who don’t get a chance to put out bags can bring their items to the parade,” explained Selemno.
Along with food donations, churches like Lehman Methodist also provide toiletries and other items that people can’t buy with food stamps. And, along with their pantry the church also provides backpacks and school supplies for approximately 80 area children each year, and keeps a “Love Fund” which they use at their pastors’ discretion. “I get called all the time, I’m always going to the bank to help people pay their rent, electric, water bill,” notes Ludwig. “So many people are making it month to month. But if they work outside or get sick they can’t get paid and the bills and late fees add up.”
Nearly as important as the donations themselves, said Ludwig, is the awareness generated by the food drives and fliers: “People are just really struggling, and I don’t think people realize how much need there is our immediate area.”