We are pleased to welcome a guest blogger today, Paul Cwalina of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. His church, Grace Fellowship, has an amazing community outreach program .
Helping Hands in Hazleton, Pennsylvania
by Paul Cwalina
Two years ago, a member of Grace Fellowship Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, who works as a supervisor at a Wal-Mart distribution center, noticed that the center was donating food almost every week to one charity or another on a consistent basis. He saw an opportunity for the church to serve the needy in the community.
With the help of the church deacons and elders, as well as fellow members of the congregation, the first distribution was planned for the first Saturday of the following month. A handmade sign taped to a tomato stake and held up by two cinderblocks was placed at the side of the road in front of the church letting the community know about the event. We had no idea if it was going to be a one-time thing or a sustainable ministry.
On that first Saturday, food was set aside at the Wal-Mart distribution center and five volunteers with vans and SUV’s met at the church at 6:00am and made the forty minute trek to pick up the food. The vehicles were jammed with as much of the food that each could hold.
Upon returning to the church, about a dozen volunteers unloaded the vehicles and organized the food, in the church’s basement fellowship hall while members of the community began showing up and sitting in the sanctuary upstairs. Food was placed into cardboard boxes and grocery bags and carried upstairs.
There was little in the way of organization those first couple months. People simply lined up in the lobby of the church and volunteers handed them boxes of food. Seventy hurting families were served that day.
Two years later, there is no longer a need for vans, SUV’s or volunteers to pick up the food. A member of Grace Fellowship Church who owns a trucking company, personally picks up the food with his tractor-trailer and brings it to the church. The handmade sign has been replace with a professionally made banner that is placed on the front of the church. The dozen volunteers waiting at the church has grown to number close to fifty volunteers each month, with half of those volunteers coming from Iglesia Kairos, a Spanish-language church that uses Grace Fellowship’s church or their services.
The number of families served has grown, as well. In August of 2015, the Fish & Loaves ministry served just over 300 families. Since then, the number has averaged near 250 each month. They begin arriving as early as 5:30am, even though the doors don’t open until 7:00am and the food isn’t distributed until 9:15.
While they wait, a deacon leads a Bible Study for nearly two dozen attendees in the church’s conference room, while the rest wait patiently in the sanctuary. While they wait, a member of Grace Fellowship Church delivers the Gospel message from the pulpit followed by a Gospel presentation by a member of Iglesia Kairos.
The ministry has recently begun to expand beyond the walls of the church as two members take the extra food each month and prepare meals for a group of homeless individuals who were found living in the woods just outside of the city.
When the last box of food is assembled and distributed, the volunteers tear down tables and boxes, sweep, mop and clean the fellowship hall, leaving just as it was found at 5:30 that morning. Volunteers leave physically exhausted, but spiritually satisfied.
Thank you for sharing this story, Paul. I love reading stories of communities reaching out to those in need-Onisha
Paul Cwalina was born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania and is the grandson of immigrant coalminers. By day, he is a marketing executive, an economics geek, and a politics junkie.
Citing Ernest Hemingway’s “Farewell to Arms” as the spark that ignited his desire to write, the author is now turning his long-dormant passion and hobby into a way to tell a story to the world.
“I don’t write ‘comfortable’ stories. I want my readers to be affected and to think; to get out of their comfort zones just a bit. The biggest compliment I receive on ‘Dropping Stones’ is that the story stays with a person long after they’ve read it. To me, that says ‘mission accomplished’.”
Paul lives with his wife and children in Drums, Pennsylvania.
You can check out his novels on Amazon
Connect with Paul on Facebook
…and on Twitter: @PKC1963