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Food Pantry Feature: Friend, Inc. Community Services

July 08, 2022
Jamie McCarthy

Each month we chat with food pantries that have signed up with and share the conversation here. It’s a great way to learn more about the kind people behind food pantries in your community. Plus it’s a great reminder to encourage gardeners to share their abundance this upcoming growing season.

Interested in having your food pantry featured? Contact [email protected]

This month we are happy to highlight Friend, Inc. Community Services.

Friend, Inc. Community Services actually operates three pantries! Their main pantry is a self-select model on Noble Street in Kutztown, PA which is connected to the agency’s main office (we also provide case management services). They founded and operate the student pantry on the campus of Kutztown University, and run a monthly Mobile Market at Huff’s Union Church in Alburtis, PA. They also respond to emergency food needs by opening up during off-hours or actually delivering the food to homes. Oh, and they have a very popular Pet Pantry at Noble Street as well!

What is your name and how many years you have been involved with the food pantry?

Jim Reece, Executive Director of Friend, Inc. Community Services

I am Jim Reece, the Executive Director and I have been with the agency for the past 12 months. Time flies! However, the main Pantry on Noble Street has been in operation since 1988 and is one of the largest in northeastern Berks County.

What can you tell us about the community you serve?

We serve a predominately agricultural, rural population of nearly 50,000 that resides across the northeastern part of Berks County, PA. The poverty rate varies but averages near 9%. People in rural communities face exactly the same issues as people living in urban and suburban areas; hunger, housing, illness, poverty, domestic safety, and access to mental health support. Due to the nature of being ‘rural’, however, these challenges are often less noticeable than they are in denser populations. It’s hard to see from the outside. But every day we see it.

How did you first get involved with the pantry you manage?

It was a career change out of post-secondary Education Administration but the school I led served a very disadvantaged population. So my heart has been in the arena for a long time and this was a wonderful opportunity to do something meaningful (and not totally different) in a totally new field.

Can you share an inspirational story or memorable experience about the food pantry and community your serve?

What strikes me time and again is the deep appreciation of the folks who shop. There are a dozen ‘thank you’s’ a day. We do try and make it as “normal” as possible by recreating a grocery shopping experience. But it is still humbling. While I had previously instituted a small pantry at the school I came from the tremendous need of today’s college students to have access to good food is still striking to me. It is a huge issue nationally. I don’t think many people outside of education realize that.

What would you like to tell gardeners in your community about the food pantry?

Pantry volunteer Cathlene Moatz setting up plants.

I would tell our neighborhood gardeners that I know that you only planted three cucumber plants but you now have 800 cucumbers! Or tomatoes. Or onions. Or whatever! Please know that after you have given to your family, neighbors, and strangers driving by there is a food pantry in your area that could desperately use that fresh food. One of our challenges is in accessing and distributing ‘fresh’. We do get some, on occasion, from our area food bank and where we fall short on Pantry days we’ll often go out and buy it directly. A part of our mission is not just distributing food to those in need, it is helping people eat better. Fresh can be, no IS, expensive so any support we can bring to a more healthy family meal we’re there! Area gardeners can be a tremendous source of nutrition for these families.

What is something you wish your community knew about your food pantry?

That we are here, working every day to help alleviate the very real issues that families face on a daily basis. We don’t just ‘hand out food’. We are educators, providers, and friends to those we work with. I want more of our community to know that these are their neighbors, coworkers, and friends that could use a little help on the road to self-sufficiency and that they are probably not even aware of.

How can your community continue to support you?

Gardeners can bring us the extra knowing that it will be put to good use. Support also comes in financial giving. It costs a great deal to obtain, administer, and distribute over 100,000 pounds of food every year. The electricity on the commercial freezers and refrigerators alone is a hefty lift! If you don’t garden consider giving here;

How important are fresh produce donations to your food pantry and what is requested most by your clients?

Fresh is absolutely critical to our mission of supporting healthy food options. People are truly appreciative of anything so please, if you are out there in gardening land, don’t worry whether it will be used or not. It will be! We often distribute recipes and other suggestions on how to utilize the fruits and vegetables they shop for.

Anything else you would like to share?

Every month between 400 and 500 individuals (and their pets) benefit from our self-select food pantry as do another 200 Kutztown University students at our campus pantry. Another 90 receive support from our Alburtis Mobile Market. Additionally, each year over 560 individuals are impacted through direct and referral support for things such as utilities, housing, SNAP, and medical assistance. In fact, for over 30 years, Friend, Inc. has been at the very forefront in delivering food and social services throughout northeastern Berks County.

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