Living paycheck to paycheck is a reality for so many. When a disaster hits, such as a pandemic, families that were just getting by find themselves choosing between necessities like prescriptions and groceries.
For those working and volunteering at The New Love Center in Jersey Shore, seeing people in need of food and meeting that need is nothing new. However, since the COVID-19 health crisis hit, their client numbers are now staggering.
According to Board of Directors President Alice Fox, the Christian-based nonprofit prepared over 11,000 meals for the whole of 2019. From March to June 2020, that number hit the 8,900 mark.
“That’s just in The Café,” Fox said. “When you look at our distribution, it’s about 1,500 people in Renovo, more than 600 families in Lock Haven and in Jersey Shore we’ve done about 450 or 500 families.”
It was almost six years ago when another agency decided it could no longer support the former Love Center. With just two weeks notice before closure, Fox said that a group of concerned citizens got together to brainstorm a way to keep the organization alive. A committee was formed and the group set out to open The Café for lunches and provide food distribution twice a month. Outreach initially reached from Linden to Woolrich but the pandemic necessitated a need for food in Lock Haven and Renovo. As a result, pop-up sites were established to expand the organization’s coverage area.
Now, those in need of a no-cost meal can walk up to The Café, located on the Glover Street side of Trinity United Methodist Church at 1407 Allegheny Street in Jersey Shore. Take-out lunch is available 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Food distribution is held from 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Friday of the month at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church at 229 S. Broad Street in Jersey Shore, as well. Food distribution was being provided at pop-up locations twice per month in Lock Haven and Renovo. However, but recently that was scaled back to once a month. Fox said that could change if the governor decides to shut down parts of the state again. Folks in those areas can receive food from 2 to 5 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the STEP Office of Aging at 124 E. Walnut Street in Lock Haven. In addition, on the third Friday of the month from 2-5 p.m. food distribution is available at the Renovo Fire Department-Emerald Hose and Ladder Company in Renovo at 230 11th Street.
If someone finds themselves in need of emergency food, they are encouraged to call 570-772-3275, and an individual will assist in providing what is needed.
Just as much as The New Love Center provides food, it also fills another critical need – companionship. Fox said that before the pandemic The Café would open at 8 a.m. for those who wished to enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation. She recalled a woman who came to the pantry who had recently lost her sister. They were able to provide food for her belly and a hug and prayer for her heart.
“I’ve worked with a number of nonprofits in my life and I have to say this has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Fox said. “It has stretched me in ways I never thought I’d be stretched. Just talking to people and making connections with them. This is about people that we see everyday. [Whether it is] food insecurity or loss of a relative, you just don’t know what people are going through,” she added.
The New Love Center partners with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and relies on an estimated 800 volunteers to fill the necessary 1,000 hours per month to get the job done. Three part-time staff include an administrative assistant, custodian and cook. Each typically works 36 hours per week, but, according to Fox, the staff was easily working 80 to 90 hours a week because of the pandemic. Whatever it took for us to get the job done is what we did,” she said.
In addition to The Café and food distribution centers, The New Love Center also offers the Military Shares program from 9 -11 a.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the American Legion, George W. Pepperman Post #36 Home Associations Inc.; the Backpack Program, which provides backpacks loaded with back-to-school items for about 400 students each year; an Elder Share program that provides an extra box of food for those older than 60; and the PB&J Program, which provides a jars of peanut butter and jelly along with a loaf of bread from 9 -11 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. on the Mondays between pantry distributions at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The operation currently runs out of four or five locations. They include St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, where 24 refrigerators and freezers house food; a 40-foot freezer in a storage unit in Renovo; and Trinity United Methodist Church, where three or four freezers are located, among others.
“Our vision has always been to bring all those programs under one facility,” Fox said. “Somebody brought our attention to a four-acre plot of ground on Route 150, between Pine Creek [Veterinary Associates] and European Imports. We will start a capital campaign and we have a cabinet ready to work on that. We’re working with Lundy Construction and they have been outstanding to us. We will have The Café, a classroom where we’ll offer budget counseling and other programs, and all of our programs will come under one roof. We’re very excited about that.”
Fox said coordinators hope to have the land cleared by late August or early September, when a cookout will be held to thank the volunteers and announce the groundbreaking to the public.
The New Love Center’s mission statement is simple, “Where the love of Christ provides for all.” Fox said, “We’re driven by two things: The needs of our clients and the volunteers who so readily give up their time and serve this organization. Without our volunteers, we couldn’t do what we do. This is God’s ministry, not ours.”
For more information about The New Love Center, visit www.thenewlovecenter.com or call 570-244-8838.