When Karen Williams was a Lorane kindergarten teacher, she mentioned to her husband, Jack, that she had a surprising number of students who were eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches. To see what they could do, Jack and Karen approached the Greater Berks Food Bank (now called Helping Harvest) to assist the Exeter community in need. “When we went out there, they told us that 19606 and 19508 were the most underserved zip codes in the county. It was shocking.”
And that is how the idea of the Exeter Area Food Pantry began a dozen years ago.
With the help of area churches, donations and volunteers, the Williams and a steering committee established the EAFP and began operating out of Reformation Lutheran Church serving approximately 10 families a month. However, as need grew within the community during the next decade, the EAFP started to run out of space at Reformation–which happened at the exact time that the pandemic hit. Explaining how it was a perfect storm of increased demand, lack of space, and the need to find a building that could provide them with a place to operate outside safely during the initial days of the pandemic, Karen said that the pantry couldn’t believe their good luck when the district approached them and offered them space in the Administration Building. “It was just phenomenal,” she said.
Since the spring of 2021, the pantry has coordinated volunteers to come in several days before “the give,” as it’s called, to receive deliveries and stage food in the former gym of Lausch Elementary. During the early days of the pandemic, volunteers collected food for those in need and delivered it safely outside to a line of cars that pulled up under the former bus drop off, where both food and volunteers stayed dry in poor weather conditions and where people could safely interact with social distancing guidelines in place. Now, with those guidelines gone, the gym transforms into a grocery store each month as those in need come inside with shopping carts to pick and choose food themselves from the tables that are stacked with fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods and baked items. The give also offers Senior High students an opportunity to earn their community service hours as students help elderly or disabled shoppers load their cars with groceries, or pick and choose items from the neatly-arranged tables.
While the EAFP still receives approximately 90% of their food from Helping Harvest, Karen said that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to close the gap between what Helping Harvest is able to provide and what the community needs. “We’re now serving at least 200 families–and that number continues to rise every month.” She said Helping Harvest was only able to supply about 75% of their food this month–which necessitated them to use direct food donations and monetary donations they’ve received to supplement this month’s expected need.
As need continues to rise, the Pantry finds itself also in need of more donations and more volunteers. For those who are interested in helping, monetary donations can be directed to Reformation Lutheran Church with a notation that the donation should be given to the Pantry. People who are interested in donating food can do so through a number of locally-organized food drives, such as the collection that the Latin Club organizes during next week’s Safe Halloween Night, or they can drop off food at the Administration Building on the third Thursday of each month from 8-11AM. She said the pantry will also accept canned food that is up to a year past its expiration date if it’s in good condition. Volunteers are always needed as well–including students who are looking for community service hours–and can coordinate their time by contacting the Pantry’s volunteer coordinator, Susan Swavely, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those who need food assistance, the Pantry operates the third Friday of every month at the Exeter Township Administration Building in the afternoons from 1:30-5:30. Those in need are asked to call ahead at 610-572-2334 so that the Pantry can stock appropriately for each month’s give.
For more information about donating to or receiving help from the Pantry, please visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ExeterAreaFoodPantry.