Lieutenants Joseph and Rebecca Smith came to the Salvation Army corps in Boyertown, Pa. with the goal of opening a food pantry where people had choices. “We wanted to make it more welcoming and interactive than just handing out bags of groceries,” says Lieutenant Joseph. Visitors could already pick out their own pastries, but the officers hoped to create a ministry that could offer more. “We wanted to expand the choices that guests had for dessert to also include choices for produce, meats, drinks, and everything else we had to offer,” says Lieutenant Joseph.
The Smiths learned to make maximum use of limited space at the corps. All rooms were too small to accommodate a walk–in pantry, so the hallways became food aisles. Every Friday, the Smiths lined them with shelves and crates stacked with produce, canned goods, and cereal provided by a local food bank and donations from community stores. Shopping carts gave the pantry a real market atmosphere. Guests could order meat when they walked in; volunteers gathered the frozen meats in a small, cold room, and had them ready as the guests exited the pantry.
Also available are prepared foods in plastic containers, donated by local markets and convenience stores. These are perfect for families that may only have a microwave at home or for hungry individuals who come in from the street. “Supermarkets make food such as fried chicken and sandwiches every day, but at a certain hour, they have to take it all off the shelves. Yet it’s still perfectly good food. So, instead of throwing it away, the stores freeze the food and call us to pick it up for our pantry,” says Jessica Fick, a social worker at the corps who greets guests and helps them with their orders.
“Teamwork, communication, and a lot of volunteers keep our Choice Pantry running,” says Lieutenant Rebecca. “This could not be done without the people of the community who give their time to the Army.”
Volunteers include retirees to girls’ basketball teams to kids who need to complete hours of community service. Many of those kids, says Lieutenant Joseph, return to volunteer at the corps even after their required service is done.
“Our food pantry coordinator, Kevin Hartman, talks to each of our volunteers and asks for their perspective on how to improve our ministry. We take a lot of suggestions from them, because they know the community’s needs,” says Lieutenant Joseph.
Hartman was originally the corps custodian, but the Smiths soon recognized his energy and commitment to the food pantry. He understands what is needed in the pantry and presents the officers with detailed spreadsheets, which update them on how much certain stores have donated. “I’m a numbers guy,” says Lieutenant Joseph, a former engineer. “I love reading Kevin’s stats and seeing how our donations grow, year after year.”
“Our next step is possibly adding an extra day of Choice Pantry,” says Lieutenant Rebecca. “We’d love to have a Thursday night pantry for the people who work on Fridays. But the volunteer numbers and logistics would have to change to keep up with Thursday, Friday, and the daily meals we serve to the community.”
As the pantry continues to grow, the Lieutenants say they are grateful to see their vision come to life. Lieutenant Joseph takes time in the middle of each pantry day to host a devotional for the guests. It’s a reminder to the Smiths that their plan succeeded because it is work done in the name of God.
“We’re only here through His glory. It’s God that provides us with every piece of food that goes in and out of our corps,” says Lieutenant Joseph.
by Hugo Bravo
Boyertown pantry volunteers also help guests with recipe ideas. Here are two recipes volunteers say are perfect for Thanksgiving.
BAKED YELLOW SQUASH