(This is the first in a series of features on organizations supported by the Diocese’s Matthew 25 Collection to provide food, clothing and shelter to people in our communities. The collection will take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 21. Visit www.hbgdiocese.org/m25 for information on how you can help support these local ministries.)
Laid off from work and recuperating from rotator cuff surgery five years ago, Lisa was searching for a way to take care of her basic needs.
She found food assistance at the Lord’s Lunch, an ecumenical ministry in New Freedom, southern York County, that distributes meals and boxes of nutritional food several days a week to people who find themselves in need.
“The Lord’s Lunch has benefited me a good bit. I would be struggling very much if not for this program. This is a wonderful place,” said Lisa, who arrived on a recent Tuesday afternoon for a food box. She still strives to make ends meet on her sole income.
Pat, a recently-retired senior, is also a recipient at the Lord’s Lunch. Not long after she retired, her sister passed away, and Pat took care of the funeral expenses, even on a fixed income.
“Coming here to get the things that I need has really helped me. If this program wasn’t here, I’d have to scrimp and scrape,” said Pat. “The people at the Lord’s Lunch are earth angels. Everybody is so kind and helpful.”
Lisa and Pat are among the more than 30 households that benefit from the Good Food Box program at the Lord’s Lunch twice a month. The program also supplies food via lunches every Saturday, food distribution twice a week through the Feeding America program, and a Kids Feeding Kids summer program for children facing food insecurity.
“The mission of the Lord’s Lunch is to provide a hearty meal to the lonely, the homeless, the unemployed, the working poor, seniors and children in a welcoming atmosphere,” said Maria Zanella, program director.
In the wake of the pandemic, the program adapted to transition from in-person meals and food selection to curbside distribution.
The Lord’s Lunch began in 2001, offering two Saturday lunches a month. It started as a Girl Scout Gold Award project by Zanella’s daughter Keila and two parishioners interested in finding a way to feed the hungry. Since then, the Lord’s Lunch has expanded into an ecumenical ministry, distributing food from the social hall at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church with support from area churches, including St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish.
“We give them meals so that they don’t have to worry about where their food is coming from,” Zanella said. “We don’t have a lot of homelessness in this area, but we do have a lot of working poor. These families are making decisions; they have to pay rent and utilities, but there’s little money left for food. They’re buying cheap food that has no nutritional value, so we give them food that is nutrition-dense. Our soups are packed with fresh vegetables. Our boxes weigh nearly 50 pounds, and they’re filled with fresh produce, meat, eggs, milk, cheese – high ticket items that would be a luxury if they had to buy them, and that would be a real strain on their budget.”
Prior to the COVID pandemic, Saturday lunches and weekday food distribution was a social event for both recipients and volunteers at the Lord’s Lunch. Homemade lunches of soups, sandwiches, side dishes, fruit and other goodies were served from the social hall’s kitchen, and people from both sides of the counter sat together to enjoy meals and conversation.
Distribution days included much of the same community-building camaraderie, as recipients walked the rows of tables to select from fresh meats, eggs, fruit, vegetables and dairy.
“Some people really come in for the companionship more than anything else, especially some of the seniors,” Zanella said. “They really enjoy it. They’ve made friends here. They sat down at a table one day with someone they didn’t know, and then all of sudden started saving seats for each other the following week.”
“We’ve become invested in each other,” she added. “If somebody is having health issues, we’re all worried about them and checking up with them. It’s been nice to see all the socialization, and the community building. It was a bonus to the purpose of the Lord’s Lunch.”
For Rose Keller, president of the program’s executive committee and a member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish, serving at the Lord’s Lunch has become part of who she is.
She started out as a volunteer assembling bags of non-perishable food every other Saturday, and now serves on weekdays and weekends.
“If I miss a day of service, I feel like I’m missing part of my life,” she said.
“The people we serve are like family to me. We’ve formed relationships so that now, when I see them out and about in the community, we stop and talk. We ask how things are going, and we catch up with each other. We’ve built relationships and rapport, and my family has grown that much bigger,” Keller said.
Rev. George Schneider, pastor of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, said the Lord’s Lunch is a success because of the volunteers from various churches and community organizations.
“We have people in the community who see a need and they unite around it because their faith calls them to,” he said.
“Sometimes with outreach programs, you get a delineation between the people who offer the program and the people who are the recipients, and they never mix. Here, the kitchen helpers come out and eat their meals with the people who come here, and they’ve developed close personal relationships that go far beyond a Saturday meal or a food distribution,” Rev. Schneider remarked. “We’re coming together to provide these opportunities to the community, and it goes very much beyond a meal or a box of food.”
Matthew 25 Grant Recipient
The Lord’s Lunch received a $10,000 grant this year from the Diocese of Harrisburg’s annual Matthew 25 Collection. The collection, which will take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 21, supports efforts that provide food, clothing and shelter. St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish and its pastor, Father Robert Yohe, sponsored the grant application for the Lord’s Lunch.
Seventy-five percent of the money contributed to the Matthew 25 Collection is distributed through grants to parish-supported ministries, like the Lord’s Lunch. Twenty-five percent of the collection is given back to the parishes for their support of people in need.
“The grant is very fortuitous for us this year, given the pandemic, what we’ve had to change to continue the ministry safely, and because our food donations are down this year,” Zanella remarked.
“We’ve had to spend a lot more money on food than we normally would. Because we’re doing a lot of curbside distribution, we’re now buying paper bags and containers that we don’t normally buy, because we used real plates and silverware when we served inside. Those are extra expenses that we certainly didn’t think we were going to have as we started the year. Because of the pandemic and the way we’ve had to change things, the Matthew 25 grant has really helped out and is going to cover most of those things,” she said.
The program is seeing an increase in the number of people it serves, as families faced food insecurity from job loss and furloughs due to the pandemic.
For example, the Lord’s Lunch served 2,355 Saturday meals in 2019; this year, the program is on track to serve more than 2,500. It’s also distributing more than 30 Good Food Boxes a week, and this summer served nearly 40 children through the Kids Feeding Kids program, where youth volunteers packed individual bags of breakfast and lunch items for children. Volunteers have also stepped up to deliver food to recipients who are unable to attend the distributions.
“Angels and the Lord continue to come through, and places like the Lord’s Lunch are there for you,” Pat said, thanking the program volunteers and those who contribute to the Matthew 25 Collection.
“For the people who have donated, thank you so much! It has been such a great help for everyone, and we appreciate everything,” she said.
While the program set-up is different and the social aspect has been put on hold, the critical ministry of the Lord’s Lunch continues to serve the area community, putting the Gospel mandate found in Matthew 25 into action.
“When we were first starting this, we felt that we were called to care for our brothers and sisters, and following the Gospel mandate to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger,” Zanella said. “We have worked very hard to make this a welcoming atmosphere to everybody who walks through the door. They are treated with kindness and respect, and they are welcomed.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness