Boarded and abandoned buildings pepper the streets that wind through the Bristol neighborhood leading to Lakeland Road and the Bible Evangelical Methodist Church. In a county with a median household income of more than $107,000 per year, it’s stunning to see the burned out or derelict remains of buildings in a county with an median home sold price of $450,000. But only 78 percent of Bucks County is owner occupied, and in Bristol the average rental, like those lining the streets leading to the church, is $1,847 per month.
For households at the lower end of the wage scale (the one that pulls Bucks County’s averages down), that rent is cost prohibitive, and the worshipers at the Lakeland Road church know that their neighbors must sacrifice other household expenses. Because rent-poor occupants often cut their grocery lists, the church gives out free food.
Once inside the Bible Evangelical Methodist Church, ushers greet worshipers and escort them inside a cozy wooden vestibule where filled pews vibrate with song. Each bench sports heavily worn hymnals, paged through for years, so that congregants might sing along. Pastor Robert Brown and other faith leaders speak passionately about their God and His love.
In addition to worship and fellowship, Bible Evangelical Methodist Church specializes in keeping an eye on neighbors and/or strangers in need. Downstairs from the worship service, church members feed and care for others at the Good Measure Pantry. The small congregation – fewer than 100 adults and children – supplies groceries to approximately fifty men, women and children each month.
Which residents of PA’s prosperous Bucks County need free food? And how can a small congregation prioritize feeding those in need? In the case of the Good Measure Pantry, the answers come from the exact same place.
Sierra Corbin, the pantry’s volunteer manager, is a disabled single mom with a 14-year-old-daughter. Corbin works part time to supplement her meager disability payments. But it’s not enough. Sierra, a Bristol native, would prefer to work full time. Unfortunately, she has lived with chronic pain her whole life. Her job requires her to spend hours on her feet, in a service-related industry. The more she works, the more pain she experiences, eventually causing her to take time off to recover from the overexertion and consequently losing even more time on the job.
Corbin’s part time work, while fulfilling and meaningful to her, resulted in reduced assistance from the federal government. Paradoxically, the work she loves – and hoped would make ends meet – reduced the amount of aid she and her daughter received. Her increased income cut into their already inadequate resources. After the feds adjusted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) she participated in – better known as food stamps – Corbin didn’t have enough left to feed her small family.
Overwhelmed and despairing, Corbin turned to her church.
Pastor Brown brought Corbin to the first-floor food locker for assistance. “The pantry was helpful. If not for the pantry, I would have had to pay cash for food,” said Corbin. “I’m glad my parents taught me how to budget because I was really sweating when they [SNAP] cut me.” As she looked around the basement storage room, the church leader invited her to grab what she needed. “Pastor Brown came to me and said, ‘Always come here first before you go shopping.’”
Once she got acquainted with the layout and availability of foodstuffs, Corbin realized that she had a number of talents that would benefit the church program, and she committed herself to giving back.
Corbin immediately volunteered, putting her budgeting and organizational skills to work. She inventoried the dry and canned goods, the refrigerated items, and the fresh produce. Pastor Brown welcomed the assistance.
For two years now, Corbin has managed the program herself. The Bucks County Opportunity Council provides groceries, but Corbin places all the orders based on the needs of those she serves.
Corbin also works around the schedules of the other nine volunteer staff members. With their help, she employs her organizational skills to identify needs, rotate produce, and create packages for Pastor Brown to deliver to homebound families in need of healthy, nutritious food. Under Corbin’s supervision, the pantry now stocks many name brand foods, along with fresh produce and meats. Because many pet owners put their four-legged family members first, the pantry supplies pet food – hoping to avoid the need for owners to give their meals to their pets.
Good Measure Pantry even stocks potting soil and seeds so that industrious folks in need may grow their own food.
Corbin has revamped the downstairs distribution area, “I not only organize the shelves and the food, but I try to point people in the right direction…” much like the pastor did for her. “We make them [people] feel comfortable.”
And how does someone qualify for assistance at the Good Measure Pantry? By stepping forward.
“We don’t put anyone through the ringer. People come to us, tell us they’re hungry and we help,” said Corbin. “We help countless families/individuals. Some people actually show up and get food to drop off to others.” They provide nutritional assistance to outside groups too, “Definitely one daycare, school children, the pastor makes a lot of deliveries and because of him, we have assisted a place for the elderly.”
Still, the pantry could use some help. “We need new doors. A food truck of our own and a good dolly.” Open only one night a week, “or anytime someone calls,” Corbin could use more volunteers with flexible schedules. They could use building-supply gift cards for repairs and hardware, “We accept money, cash, cash aps, checks…” and of course, “food.”
She also has a list of desperately needed items to go directly to the people they serve, adding “We need can openers, shampoo, conditioner, soap, dish soap and diapers.”
Corbin wants to keep building on their successes. Because she, Pastor Ryan and the entire Bible Evangelical Methodist Church community live the motto of another Pennsylvania foodbank spokesperson, Prakash Ramamurthi, “I know we cannot save everyone, but we can save the ones around us.”
Folks not in the Bible Evangelical Methodist Church neighborhood can go to any of the Bucks County Opportunity Council affiliated food banks that serve thousands more individuals and families throughout the county. Their list of 70 agencies assisting residents who are food insecure supplies addresses and phone numbers to help.
With 7.2 percent of Bucks County residents and 8.7 percent of their children food insecure – totalling 45,000 individuals – those food pantries have their work cut out for them.
Information for all manner of assistance – housing, food, etc. – anywhere in the country is available by dialing the national hotline at 211.