Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Matthew 25 Grant Recipient: The Caring Cupboard is Nourishing Lives while Fighting Hunger

For Allison Zimmerman, the Caring Cupboard food ministry in Palmyra was a lifeline when her family found themselves in financial turmoil.

“We were in a very rough spot…. The Caring Cupboard gave us the ability to still pay our bills and provide for our children, and also provide healthy food, special food, different snacks, fruits and vegetables – things that my children really appreciated,” she said.

The significance of the no-cost, healthy foods she was able to access for her family on a weekly basis can’t be understated for Zimmerman, who said she doesn’t know where she’d be today without the critical assistance she found through the ministry.

“I probably would not be in the home I’ve been in for 13 years, I probably would not have been able to keep clothes on my children or been able to keep them in the extra-curricular activities that they’ve been in without the Caring Cupboard,” she said.

That’s why Zimmerman currently serves as its Operations Manager. Helping and caring for individuals and families facing food insecurity is her way of giving back to the ministry that once provided for her family in their time of need.

With a mission of transforming the lives of individuals and families through access to quality food, health and wellness education, and a dedicated space to build community connections, the Caring Cupboard started in 2001 as an idea of a Sunday School class at the local Brethren Church. Today, it serves 250 families in the Palmyra and Annville-Cleona School Districts from its Palmyra location each week, and upwards of 70 families in the Northern Lebanon School District out of its Jonestown location.

“Our families come to us for lots of reasons. We talk all the time about how we all stand on the precipice of needing help like this. It’s easy with an illness or injury or loss of a job to fall behind so much that your family needs to access food resources,” said Shila Ulrich, Executive Director.

Through the generous efforts of supporting churches, businesses, organizations and schools, the panty offers a variety of non-perishable items and fresh meat, bread, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables. Located on North Railroad Street in Palmyra, the pantry has the look and feel of a grocery store, as clients push their grocery carts up and down the aisles, selecting the items they prefer.

Having access to fresh and healthy foods of their choice was beneficial for Zimmerman when she was a client there.

“My children are not picky eaters, but they prefer fresh things to canned. We were able to receive fresh broccoli, squash, grapes, apples – things I couldn’t provide. I was able to give them a better option and better variety. We were always able to get meats, milk and eggs for our family,” she said. “It wasn’t a box of things that we were going to take home and not use – it was a wonderful complement of things that my children were excited about eating.”

A Matthew 25 Grant Recipient

The Caring Cupboard is one of 35 ministries within the Diocese to receive a total of $170,000 in grants from last year’s Matthew 25 Collection. The annual collection is an undertaking of the Diocese to assist parish-sponsored programs that provide food, clothing and shelter to people in need.

This year’s collection is the weekend of November 19. Monies contributed by parishioners will be directed into grants for area ministries. Some, like the Caring Cupboard, help alleviate the burden of food insecurity. Others provide shelter for those who are homeless, or help struggling families pay rent. Some work to provide the less-fortunate with warm clothing.

All funds contributed to the Matthew 25 Collection benefit local needs. Seventy-five percent of the monies are distributed to programs within the Diocese via grants. Twenty-five percent of the monies are returned to parishes for their use in assisting others.

The grant that the Caring Cupboard received from last year’s collection is being used to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to clients each week.

“Our families are directly impacted by the Matthew 25 grant because we’re able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables,” Ulrich said. “We think about food as health, and so if we’re able to provide foods that are much better options than canned or processed varieties, we’re happy to provide that. Without the Matthew 25 grant, we’d have a much harder time being able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables.”

“The Matthew 25 grant has been an extraordinary aid to the Caring Cupboard over many years. We’re so thankful for the Diocese’s commitment to being able to ensure that people have fruits and vegetables, for us specifically,” she said. “To offer an annual grant is really meaningful to us, and we really appreciate the hard work that goes into making it happen, and every donor who makes this available to us. We also appreciate our relationship specifically with Holy Spirit Church and what they’re able to do and how they support us through this endeavor and others throughout the year.”

Community is critical to the mission of the Caring Cupboard, and that’s found in the generosity of donors as well as in the staff and volunteers who extend their services to clients.

“It gave me a sense of community when I was coming here,” Zimmerman said. “As a young mom in a tough spot, I had people here who cared about me and were excited to see me and my family every week. There were days that I came in and needed a shoulder to cry on, and they were here for me. There were days that I had celebrations and things I wanted to share, and they were here to celebrate with me. From the good days to the bad, the Caring Cupboard made me feel like I had a family.”

“And now, I treat every single client that comes in like family,” she continued. “It’s important to me that our older clients and our younger clients and moms feel like they have somewhere to go – not only to shop for the food they need for their family, but to share news with us and know they’re part of our community. It’s a wonderful full circle for me,” she said.

Learn more about the Matthew 25 Collection and how you can contribute at www.hbgdiocese.org/matthew25. Find information on the Caring Cupboard at www.thecaringcupboard.org.

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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