When asked to describe her role at Lebanon County Christian Ministries, Amanda Zearfoss used the phrase “emotional rollercoaster.”
As a support services coordinator at FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, Amanda has a vital role when it comes to helping families and individuals experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.
Many guests who enter FRESH Start have jobs, but they live paycheck to paycheck. They can pay bills, but if just one thing goes wrong, such as a vehicle breaking down, it starts a slippery financial slope that can lead to evictions, to not being able to pay other bills, to losing child care or transportation and other crucial foundations needed to maintain sustainability.
5 things you should know about homelessness in Lebanon County
Many times, guests also have emotional and relationship struggles in addition to the economic ones, which can lead to difficulty in breaking out of the cycle of poverty.
Amanda’s ability to identify with guests was not developed in the classroom – it was formed by life experience.
Amanda knows the difficulty to break free from the grips of homelessness and poverty because she was once in their shoes. As it happens, Amanda began her career at FRESH Start homeless.
Her story begins in childhood. She moved around a lot due to her father being in the military. When she was around 9 years old, her parents got divorced and her mother worked two jobs to support her two children.
“We hit rock bottom, we lived in low-income housing, she applied for food stamps for the first time in her life,” she said. “Everything kind of decreased and it went downhill so to speak, so we were living in poverty.”
When she was 15, she moved in with her father and returned to Lebanon when she was 18.
“During that time, I learned the street life,” she said. “I learned to hustle.”
When she gave birth to her daughter in 2008, she wanted to change her lifestyle.
“I didn’t want to be in the streets. I didn’t want to make the fast money, I wanted to be somebody my daughter could look up to,” she said. “So, one day she could say, ‘mom, you know what, you fell a few times, you went down the wrong path, but you made a right turn.’”
A few years later she had her second child, but in less than a year, Amanda says she and the children’s father split up.
“During that time, I was homeless,” she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom for so many years, I had nothing to fall back on. I had no work ethic, no nothing. I had to move back with my dad,” she said.
Amanda became pregnant again, but tragically lost her child through stillbirth.
“After the burial, I fought depression really bad. I fought it to the point where there were days I didn’t want to wake up, but my children kept me going,” she said.
She returned to Lebanon and spent close to a year couch surfing - that is, moving from one temporary housing arrangement to another – among four households. She tried to provide some stability for her children when they came to visit by only having the children stay with her one of the households so they could have some stability.
A friend eventually offered to let her stay at their home where she ended up living for three years. During this time, Amanda acquired her GED, went to college and earned her degree. When she became pregnant with her fourth child, she was put on bed rest.
“I could not work, I could not do anything,’ she said. “It was devastating. I had (state) cash assistance, and it helps you to a point, but it’s nothing sustainable. You can’t live off of it. I would say for my family of five I was getting $408 a month.”
It was at this time when she was receiving state cash assistance that she went through a program through Community Action Partnership that helps mothers entering the workforce. She saw two job openings at Lebanon County Christian Ministries. Amanda had heard about LCCM before, and her first experience with the organization was utilizing its programs to receive diapers and clothing.
Amanda decided to apply for one of the jobs but did not receive it. But, as Amanda puts it, a “very special someone” at LCCM saw her potential and advocated for her to be offered the other position. That special someone is Wenda DiNatale, LCCM’s client support manager.
When Amanda started at LCCM, she was still technically homeless since she was still living with a friend.
Through encouragement from Wenda, she accepted the job because she was reaching a turning point in her life, achieving personal goals, developing a support network and, most importantly, accepting Jesus Christ into her life. Now she was being given an opportunity in her walk with God to walk alongside of others who are struggling with homelessness.
“I learned that swallowing my pride and letting the Lord back into my life and guiding me in the proper direction – I got the help that I needed,” she said. “I wish someone would have walked alongside of me and given me that nudge to say ‘hey no, you’re not doing this right, you’re walking down the wrong path. You have to think of this and think of that.’”
But Amanda’s story took another tragic ironic twist when, a year into her position helping those struggling with homelessness, she became homeless again when her neighbor’s house caught fire and her home was condemned.
“I was completely homeless,” she said. “I had nowhere to go.”
That’s when another door opened. Her family was a candidate for transitional housing, which provided stability and allowed her family to save money.
“I was able to save up,” she said. “And a year ago to this day, I officially signed a lease with my name on it, with my children, and I did not look back.”
For years, John watched as people walked to the free noon meal site at Lebanon County Christian Ministries.
As LCCM’s next door neighbor, John met a lot of people who have walked by his home to get a free meal that helps them save money and feed their families.
John, a native of Lebanon, has worked in Lebanon County for 37 years doing all kinds of work.
“I worked in restaurants, made yard in a yarn factory, worked with saw blades and sharpened them in shops,” he said. “I worked at so many places around Lebanon that I can’t even remember them all.”
Most recently, he worked in a restaurant. But, like a lot of people, he was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic in March.
That’s when he decided to walk across the street and get meals for the first time.
“I’m on welfare for food and my health insurance, but I lost my food card due to the fact that I got unemployment, so I was making too much money,” he said. “I had to come up with food.”
The noon meal provides food for both him and his mother.
“It’s helped me tremendously,” he said. “We just split the noon meal now and the food is all prepared in a way where she can have it because she’s on a special diabetic diet.”
John anticipates he’ll be receiving unemployment through the end of the year but hopes to return to work. Until then, he will continue to rely on the noon meal to help him save money and eat a nutritious lunch.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s had a very big impact.”
I tried to feed my family of four on just $40 in 48 hours, and I quickly realized that when I'm not mindful of how much I'm spending, it can add up quickly.
Why did I do this? I was trying to fill a space on my bingo card.
Let me explain.
I’m participating in LCCM's Hurdles to Housing challenge, a fundraiser designed to transform perspectives of homelessness in Lebanon County and raise at least $5,000 for LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center.
The fundraiser ends Friday. You can help us reach our goal!
The challenge is a 30-day event that encourages fundraisers and their families or teams to experience just some of the real-life issues that go along with families and individuals experiencing homelessness or who are on the verge of homelessness.
The challenges range from living in cramped living spaces, to going without your vehicle for a day, and finding somewhere other than your own home to sleep for a night.
The challenge that my family and I completed - well, tried to complete - was living for 48 hours on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is also used as the basis for benefits provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
According to the plan, my family of four, which consists of my husband and I, our 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter, would need to spend the bare minimum of about $600 per month on groceries, which averages out to about $20 a day.
A report by the United Way points out some potential flaws with the methodology used to calculate that cost.
According to the United Way ALICE report (asset limited, income-constrained, employed), the cost of food
increased in Pennsylvania by 18 percent from 2007 to 2017.
The original US federal poverty level (FPL) was based on the premise that food accounts for one-third of a household budget, so that a total household budget was the cost of food multiplied by three. Yet with the large increases in the cost of other parts of the household budget, food now accounts for only 12 percent of the bare minimum budget for a family or a single adult in Pennsylvania, according to the report.
The report notes that because the methodology of the FPL has not evolved in tandem with changing lifestyles and work demands, the FPL significantly underestimates the cost of even the most minimal household budget today.
I'm inclined to believe this because I had to wait until the weekend to attempt this challenge. There was no way I’d be able to stay within budget during the week, as both my husband and I not only work full-time (I work 40 hours per week, and he works 50 hours and travels throughout eastern Pennsylvania), but we are also involved in ministry during the week and sometimes weekends.
What I’m saying is that we order take-out from restaurants - a lot.
We began this challenge Saturday morning and ended Sunday evening. Just finding two whole days to do this was challenging because we weren't home the entire time. My kids also spent the day with their grandparents on Sunday, so they ate lunch and dinner there. My husband had band practice Saturday morning, and played in the band at church on Sunday morning.
This meant that there would be a reduction in the amount of food being prepared for those meals.
I also had some food items that didn't cost anything, as well as some items that were meant for earlier in the week, but our busy schedule during the week meant bumping those meals to the weekend. Eating it during the week just didn't pan out (no pun intended).
Below, I list out the meals prepared over the weekend. I broke the cost down by package, not by portion used. I do realize that this may not provide the most accurate picture, or could determine whether I could stay within the $600 monthly budget, but the goal was to just be mindful of living within a relatively strict budget.
Here’s a breakdown:
Maier’s Italian Bread ($2.48)
Provolone cheese ($2.68)
1 quart of milk ($1.73) (only my daughter drinks the milk)
Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal ($2.50)
Me and kids: Chicken (FREE) LCCM had some leftover chicken at the end of the day Friday, and we didn't want it going to waste).
Cucumbers in vinegar (free from garden)
Husband: Ramen and two hot dogs ($3) He had band practice and came home later in the afternoon
La Croix: ($3.38) *note: We had this left over from a meeting from the previous week
Club crackers - ($2.52)
Cream cheese - $1.62
Rotini noodles ($1.28)
Tomato sauce: FREE (from garden)
Parmesan cheese: ($2.36)
(cost noted in Saturday’s breakfast)
Chicken wings ($8.99) (we had these thawing from earlier in the week)
Ham: FREE gift from a friend
Tuna steak ($5) (was thawing from earlier in the week because we weren’t home to eat it)
Cucumbers in vinegar
Club crackers and cream cheese
Animal crackers (tub for $3.98)
(Cost noted in Saturday’s meal)
Total cost = $45.02
Not included in this budget:
Caribou coffee k-cups - $12.89 for 24-count bought in July. My husband and I consumed four cups of coffee over the weekend.
What I learned
I went over budget, but I could have stayed within budget had we planned better. However, there were some wild cards thrown into the mix, too.
We had received some free items from LCCM, from our garden and from a friend who gifted us a ham.
The items that really hurt us were the chicken wings and the tuna steak.
Both items were supposed to get cooked earlier that week, but we were busy so it got bumped to the weekend.
In my experience this weekend, however, the Thrifty Food Plan does not seem to take into account the activity in people's lives. I feel that, with careful planning, I could live within this budget - and I did at one time when we weren't involved in any activities and we only had our son - but it seems to assume a mother and/or father has ample time to cook and prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for four people seven days a week and that everyone is home all the time to eat it.
My husband, for example, travels throughout Pennsylvania, and he doesn't really know when he'll have a chance to eat or what his options will be that day in different counties. He doesn't exactly have a set schedule.
We are both active in ministry, which doesn't always fall on days that are convenient when we have less going on. This tends to fall during the week, and is a critical piece of our lives. This means one or both of us eat take-out two nights a week.
And sometimes other things just come up and we can't all make it home for dinner that night.
One day, my son and daughter will be involved in after-school activities and we'll be on the go then, too.
Additionally, the plan doesn't take into account personal care items such as diapers, wipes, shampoo, conditioner, razors, soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper and Lysol (If you can find it. Thanks, COVID!)
I used to be good at budgeting meals, as my husband and I had to live within a fairly tight budget for years, especially when our son was born.
Things had gotten better financially over the last five years, and we just stopped being so mindful of our spending. And with more going on, it's a trade off for convenience.
In the past when things weren't so good financially, I would calculate the cost of each meal in my head, projecting how long each item would last. I would look at a bag of apples and think things like ‘If I eat an apple each day, it will last for a week, but if I eat one every other day, I can make it last two weeks.’
That was how I had to think all the time. It made me resourceful, but it was limiting and exhausting. I spent so much time and energy trying to figure out how to make do with what we had that it became this all-consuming quest.
For years, I’d ration, use coupons, find free food when I could, buy in bulk, shop at discount stores requiring multiple trips to different stores, grow vegetables and herbs, and just tell myself that I can't have my favorite foods very often (seafood is my weakness!)
We may have only gone out to eat a few times a month. Sometimes, not at all.
This weekend really got me thinking back to those lean times, and I never realized the mental gymnastics that were required to stretch groceries and, ultimately, money.
I started thinking about how others may be struggling now, not just in this area, but all areas of life.
2020 has been the most collectively challenging year for all of us.
When an opportunity presents itself, let's help to lighten each other's loads.
Andrea Gillhoolley is the Director of Development and Marketing for Lebanon County Christian Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (717) 272 4400 ext. 211.
What does homelessness look like in Lebanon County? What are the causes of homelessness? What are some local organizations doing to alleviate the issue?
Bryan Smith, LCCM’s executive director, recently asked two local nonprofit leaders these questions and more during Facebook Live chats to get a sense of the issue on the local level.
Homelessness is defined in a number of different ways. There are two federal definitions coined by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) At its core, homelessness is defined as an individual or family lacking a fixed, regular, and nighttime residence.
The first video is Smith's discussion with Mike Ritter, co-chair of the Lebanon County Coalition to End Homelessness, who explained the big picture of local homelessness as part of LCCM's Hurdles to Housing challenge. The second is with Sue Blouch, executive director of the Lebanon Rescue Mission about the mission's role in the community, its men's and women's shelters, the different causes of homelessness between men and women, and the Lebanon Free Clinic.
Here are 5 things we learned.
1. Homelessness is hard to spot in Lebanon County
When people think of homelessness, what often comes to mind are people who living unsheltered on the streets in big cities such as Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. In Lebanon County, it is not quite as apparent as in big cities.
“Commonly what we see in our communities is what’s considered doubling up…where a family doesn’t have their own place to stay, so they’re doubling up and staying in someone else’s house or apartment,” said Mike Ritter, co-chair of the Lebanon County Coalition to End Homelessness.
How 60 days at FRESH Start helped one man save money, secure a full-time job
FRESH Start a safe haven for mom, 3 kids
With rental units, doubling up is often a violation of lease agreements. In those cases, people may instead “couch surf,” that is, moving from one temporary housing arrangement to another. “They’ll stay with a buddy for a couple of nights or a couple of weeks even and then hop around to another person – a family member – and they’ll just kind of go through this rotation trying to keep their helps from getting in trouble or evicted from their rental places,” Ritter said.
Ritter added that individuals experiencing homelessness in Lebanon County may sleep in abandoned buildings, storage units, cars and hotels.
2. State education data give most detailed picture of homelessness in Lebanon County
A precise picture of homelessness in Lebanon County is difficult to obtain due to a lack of sufficient data collection.
The most detailed data comes from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s 2017-18 Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness report.
In Lebanon County, 716 students were identified as being homeless in some capacity – 542 alone were identified within the Lebanon School District.
“We have to keep in mind those are 700 individual students who are also often times connected to a family, parents or other household members who are also likely homeless and struggling as well,” Ritter said.
At LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, 126 guests were served in the 2019-20 year. Half the guests at FRESH Start at any given time are children.
3. Major causes of homelessness are varied
Some of the common, “big players” include low wages or insufficient incomes, Ritter said.
“That includes people who are employed, but not to the level or degree where they can really be self sustaining or self sufficient,” he said. In addition, unemployment is a factor, and may be more so now during the pandemic.
The unemployment rate is 11.8 percent in Lebanon County, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a decrease from a high of 13.7 percent in April. In February, the unemployment rate for the county was 4.5 percent.
These factors, Ritter says, often go together with a lack of affordable housing, which is both a national and local issue.
Over one-quarter of Lebanon County - 28.2 percent of residents - live in unaffordable housing situations, according to a 2017 United Way Needs Assessment report. Unaffordable housing is defined as households where monthly costs for housing exceed 30 percent of the monthly income. Roughly 39 percent of Lebanon City residents are living in unaffordable housing situations and nearly one-fifth of survey respondents reported that affordable housing was an unmet need (18.6 percent).
The poorest renter households outpaces the number of potential affordable housing units available in Lebanon County, according to a 2015 housing study by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
According to the report, there are 3,305 renter households living at or below 30 percent of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development adjusted median family income level. The supply of affordable housing units for renter households in this income level is just 2,100 units.
For families with greater incomes, but who also rent, more affordable housing options are available, which means they have more options and will have an easier time finding a new rental unit. But for those rental households with the lowest income levels, who are most at-risk for eviction or losing stable housing, they will have much greater market competition, Ritter said, adding there are many other ramifications that go along with this scenario.
A virtual housing summit was held Aug 11-12 to discuss local innovative housing programs, Ritter said, adding that a funding request for a local comprehensive housing market study in the works. “We want to get a baseline of post-COVID impact and then be able to track that going forward as it relates to housing,” he said.
4. Causes of homelessness tend to differ between men and women
Aside from financial and housing instability issues, there are other factors that tend to be distinctive between men and women at the local level, at least from the vantage point of Sue Blouch, executive director of the Lebanon Rescue Mission.
A cycle of relationship breakdowns often comes into play for many of the women who reside at the mission’s Agape Family Shelter. “The women at Agape just seem to young today and so they’re in insecure relationships so when those relationships break down, they’re on their own,” she said. “Now it’s them and their children, sometimes very small children. They start by going to family and living with family, which is great and works out for a short period of time and then becomes problematic for a lot of reasons."
For a high percentage of men at the mission’s Men’s Shelter, drug addiction and alcoholism are common culprits, and in many instances relate back to unaddressed childhood trauma.
“Alcoholism is rampant in our community,” Blouch said.
“The other thing, sadly is that trauma piece – coming from a childhood of chaos and then all of a sudden ending up on the street by themselves because the chaotic environment they were growing up in was either so volatile they couldn’t stay or they just get through out and the trauma creates these behavioral issues, which creates this cycle.”
Blouch noted that the men on their programs are getting younger – the youngest currently is 20 years old and the oldest men are in their 60s. “We have both ends of those spectrum's, but what’s beautiful about that picture is the older men in their 60s who spent a lifetime on the street, in and out of addictions, really spend some quality time with the young men and say ‘learn from my mistakes, do not wait until you’re 60 years old to get a handle on your life."
5. Faith-based organizations across US are at the forefront of homelessness program innovation
Almost 60 percent of emergency shelter beds, what many consider the ‘safety net of all safety nets’ for the homeless, are provided through faith-based organizations (FBOs), according to a Baylor University report that analyzed faith-based organizations in 11 U.S. cities. Other key findings include:
Blouch said that encounter broke her heart.
“So, imagine what that does to someone and the level of trauma and dysfunction that this alone brings into someone’s life.”
Written by Andrea Gillhoolley, Director of Development and Marketing, Lebanon County Christian Ministries. Contact her at email@example.com or call (717) 272 4400 ext. 211 to find out how you can become a supporter of LCCM to help change lives in Lebanon County.
Allan and Marcy Shindel visited Lebanon County Christian Ministries for the first time recently.
The couple have been struggling financially due to health issues since moving back home to Lebanon County from Florida two years ago.
In the fall, Marcy and Allan both ended up in the hospital for serious health issues. As a precautionary measure, Marcy had to take a leave of absence from her part-time job to protect both herself and her husband. Allan is still unable to work due to medical issues, but is looking for work he could do from home. In June, Marcy returned to her part-time job.
“This is the new world,” she said. “I will put the mask on and go to work.”
But the medical bills during their hospital stays – and other bills - just kept piling up.
“We just started getting bills and bills and bills,” she said. “I have Medicare. He’s waiting for disability. We’ve been getting desperate. All of our savings are being used now.”
COVID-19: LCCM executive director forecasts needs for food assistance, emergency shelter
After 2 job losses due to COVID-19, family of 5 turns to LCCM for food assistance
They turned to Lebanon County Christian Ministries for an emergency food order that supplies two weeks’ worth of groceries to get some relief.
“It meant so much to me that day,” Marcy said. “We really appreciated all the food. It was just so much food. I also got soap and detergent.”
The Shindel household is just one of 68 that has sought emergency food orders at LCCM specifically because of economic hardship as a direct result of COVID-19.
While the future is uncertain, Marcy looks forward to the day when she can resume normal life again.
“I look forwarding to taking a nice drive or going on a nice walk,” she said. “I jut want everything to be normal and no so nerve wracking.”
Since mid-march, Lebanon County Christian Ministries has provided emergency food orders for 65 households directly affected economically due to COVID-19, has served 8,053 free noon meals and has taken on an additional cost of housing shelter residents at a hotel as a precautionary measure.
In recent weeks, noon meal attendance has remained steady with 175 to 200 people served per day, but emergency food orders have decreased to pre-COVID-19 numbers. Shelter guests are living in a hotel, but for how long?
Life is uncertain heading into the summer months, but LCCM’s Executive Director, Bryan Smith, forecasted what food insecurity, housing, and other needs may look like in the near- and long-term future on LCCM’s recent Facebook Live interview held Tuesday, May 5, in celebration of #GivingTuesdayNow
Here are three things you should know.
1. Food insecurity
LCCM saw a major increase in emergency food orders within a week after Gov. Tom Wolf issued a stay-at-home order in mid-March.
Emergency food orders at LCCM provide a 2-week supply of grocery-style food to individuals and families in need of fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and other dairy products, meat and other perishable and nonperishable items.
Pre-COVID-19, LCCM served an average of 25-38 households weekly (including 70-100 individuals) and during the peak of COVID-19 the need spiked to about 50-60 households (including 130 to 140 individuals).
Since mid-April, households served have gone back down to pre-COVID-19 numbers due to governmental assistance, including unemployment, food assistance programs and stimulus checks, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, supplemental food box giveaways provided by various churches and organizations throughout Lebanon County.
After 2 job losses due to COVID-19, family of 5 turns to LCCM for food assistance
“I feel that this data has really shown that when the state subsidies and governmental assistance kicked up, its made an impact on the emergency need as well as some of the distribution of boxes going out through the community – that’s made an impact as well,” Smith said.
“We’ll go back to pre-COVID-19 numbers, but on our way back to pre-COVID numbers, we may see some spikes where governmental assistance isn’t there. That’s what we’ve been positioned for – we’ve been positioned as a faith-based entity, community-based nonprofit that’s here to take care of our neighbors and our community, and that’s really what we’re here for.”
Smith added that the biggest challenge in food distribution is balancing the limited availability of non-perishables in bulk food purchasing programs with the large amount of perishable items in donations from local businesses.
Meanwhile, the daily free noon meal continues to hold steady at 175 to 200 guests per day - pre-COVID-19, a busy winter day saw an average of 130 guests.
Meet Heather, LCCM's noon meal coordinator
“Does that ever go back down?” Smith asked. “I don’t know. Historians and friends of ours were telling us that LCCM was serving 250 to 300 people daily in the early ‘80s” when LCCM formed in response to the shuttering of businesses such as Bethlehem Steel.
2. Food supply
LCCM is still able to obtain food purchases from vendors, though there has been a slow down in product acquisition. LCCM acquires food through a variety of ways, including donations, state food funding, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, and grocery store donations.
“Early on, we saw the grocery store donations make a complete decline,” Smith said. “They went away because there was this mass run – everyone was out getting everything, bread shelves were empty. Those are things that we rely on to share with those who are in need.”
Recently, only 25 percent of LCCM’s last food order from our supplier was delivered, which is consistent with what some local grocers are experiencing.
LCCM, however, has not had any difficulty providing food for any of its food assistance programs.
3. Emergency shelter
Since March 13, FRESH Start Emergency Shelter and Resource Center guests have been staying at a local hotel as a precautionary measure. The resource center continues to operate for a few hours daily so guests can make meals and do laundry and check in with shelter staff.
LCCM staff is developing a plan for the yellow and green statuses that will eventually be assigned to Lebanon County.
In the yellow zone, Smith is working with some local community members to possibly transition guests out of the hotel setting into a less costly physical location that would still provides safety measures for social distancing.
Once Lebanon County can enter the ‘green’ phase, it is still unclear if there is a so-called normal to return to.
“Ideally, green would say hey, we can go back to where we were before with churches, but we are sensitive to the concerns of what churches are going to want to do," he said.
Churches have hosted the emergency shelter on a two-week rotational basis for seven years. Each day for two weeks, three to five volunteers from churches would donate their time toward working in shifts – including overnight.
“It’s taxing,” Smith said.
Additionally, cold weather shelter has been identified as a gap in services in Lebanon County. A cold weather shelter provides a safe, warm place for people who are homeless during the winter months where someone can show up to sleep with no requirements for entry, such as a drug test or a bench warrant check.
“It’s time to start planning two to three years down the road, as well as for the family-based shelter,” Smith said. “Is it time for us to start looking at a physical location? The reality is that it comes with a whole boatload of opportunities, but challenges. Do we need a physical location? Where is it? How do we fund it? …It’s going to look different on the other end. It’s going to be a challenge but let’s look at it as an opportunity to just kind of kick it up a notch for our community.”
After 2 job losses due to COVID-19, family of 5 turns to Lebanon County Christian Ministries for food assistance
After the birth of her son, Vanessa Breen turned to Lebanon County Christian Ministries for food assistance. Fifteen years later, she and her family found themselves needing assistance again, this time due to job losses as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I’m a school van driver,” the Richland mother of three said. “There’s no school, so there’s no work for me.”
Just a few weeks later, her husband also lost his full-time job.
“Then it just hit home,” she said. “The first week, it really hit us hard…we didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Two job losses coupled with needing to pay bills and the stress that came with homeschooling three children was starting to take its toll.
The Breens recently sought emergency food assistance through LCCM to alleviate some of the financial burden caused by COVID-19 crisis. Emergency food orders at LCCM provide a 2-week supply of food to individuals and families in need throughout Lebanon County.
They gave me so much,” she said. “They gave me frozen foods and meat. The meat prices are going up and on top of that it’s harder to find.”
Her family isn’t alone.
Over the last seven weeks, LCCM provided 252 households with emergency food orders. Sixty-three of those households - including 192 individuals - sought assistance as a direct result of job loss related to the COVID-19 crisis. Households directly affected by the economic fallout ranged from individuals living alone to families of 7 and 8.
Though life has yet to return to normal, Vanessa says her family is thankful for the help when they needed it most.
“God has been good to us,” she said. “I just feel hopeful. Right now, in the beginning, all of this is just the hard part. I know we’ll be fine.”
Written by Andrea Gillhoolley, director of development and marketing, Lebanon County Christian Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Being involved with Lebanon County Christian Ministries for 20 years, Noon Meal Coordinator Heather Kumler has found her calling.
Kumler’s family began its involvement with LCCM because of her mother-in-law, Wenda DiNatale, being on staff at LCCM. As a mother of three, Kumler also encourages volunteerism in her children. She and her three children had recently volunteered for Summer Food Program, which feeds children in the county.
Even though LCCM did not always have a kitchen, DiNatale still found a way to provide the county with food and Kumler was able to assist.
“Before LCCM had a kitchen of their own, my father-in-law and I would cook meals (with DiNatale) and would serve as take out at churches in our community,” said Kumler.
Kumler's responsibilities now require her to oversee the food bank and offer volunteers guidance and direction to ensure that food orders are packed with nutritious and healthy foods. She also guides volunteers by assisting in the development of the menus for the Noon Meal Program along with developing the meals themselves.
Kumler looks back on her volunteer experiences at LCCM as preparation to fulfill her responsibilities as a member of the staff at the organization. With all of her experience as a volunteer at the organization throughout the years, Kumler would tell someone who is interested in volunteering that they will get much more out of the experience than they can contribute.
When volunteering, Kumler says, “volunteers are a blessing and a necessity to the ministry, though most times volunteers receive a greater blessing.”
Written by Jensen Burnheimer
Lebanon County Christian Ministries is working in conjunction with Lebanon Valley College students to tell the story of LCCM through the lens of its volunteers, guests, staff and board throughout the season of Lent
COVID-19: Food insecurity continues to grow in Lebanon County and 4 other things you should know about LCCM
Clint waited in line at the free noon meal at Lebanon County Christian Ministries on Wednesday.
The Lebanon man, a medical transport driver, has been to the noon meal periodically in the past but has come back recently because his hours at work have been cut down from 40 per week to about 25 – 30, if he’s lucky - as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
“There’s just not enough work to go around,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, demand for food assistance in Lebanon County - and throughout the world – is surging.
Lebanon County residents facing food insecurity are turning to food pantries such as Lebanon County Christian Ministries, the Caring Cupboard in Palmyra and J.O.Y. Pantry in Jonestown in greater numbers.
“Overall, we are seeing an increase in noon meal guests and individuals seeking emergency food orders,” said Bryan Smith, LCCM’s Executive Director.
More: Lebanon County households financially affected by by COVID-19 seeking food assistance at LCCM
What that need will look like in two to three months is anyone’s guess, but LCCM is making projections based off preliminary data collected in the first few weeks of the crisis that the need will continue to rise.
“I think the biggest thing is the unknowns,” Smith said. “While we’ve seen an upward trend in needs, we don’t know if those trends will continue to grow at the same pace or if there will be an exponential growth leading to higher demand.”
Here are 5 things you should know about how COVID-19 is affecting LCCM and how you can help.
If you or someone you know needs food assistance, please be advised of our modified hours. Call 717-272-4400 to schedule an appointment.
1. The growing need
Staff and volunteers began noticing a gradual increase in noon meal attendance numbers in mid-March. Daily attendance rose from it’s normal 130 individuals to 167, then skyrocketing to 212 in just one week.
Emergency food orders for individuals and families also steadily began to rise. LCCM sees an average of about 38 households needing emergency food each week, but recently it’s been averaging between 50 to 60 households each week.
Since mid-March through Friday, April 3, LCCM served 39 households financially affected by the crisis – those households include 116 individuals. Ninety-seven percent of those households experienced job loss as a result of the crisis, while 3 percent saw a reduction in hours at work. Ninety-five percent were working full-time.
In the chart below, we’ve included the total number of households and individuals served (normal need as well as households affected by COVID) over the past five weeks. You can see how the need spiked at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis during Week 3.
With only eight full-time staff members and one part-time staff member, LCCM heavily relies on more than 80 in-house volunteers throughout its many programs every week.
“We have absolutely seen a decrease in volunteers because a lot of our volunteers are at-risk individuals, and we respect that and appreciate and encourage them to stay home and do what they need to for their own health and their family’s health,” Smith said.
With that loss, LCCM has, however, seen an uptick in other volunteers who are able to step in and fill in the gaps.
If you'd like to help, sign up here and we'll send out an eblast as needs arise.
3. Safety measures and modified hours
LCCM is still in operation but has modified its hours and put safety measures in place to protect its staff, volunteers and guests. These changes include:
4. Food supply
LCCM is still able obtain food purchases from vendors though there has been a slow down in product acquisition.
“What we used to be able to call and have delivered in two days now has a three-to-five day lead time,” Smith said during a Facebook live chat with Dede Carmichael of the United Way of Lebanon County and Shila Ulrich, Executive Director of The Caring Cupboard.
Smith said LCCM must forecast what its food needs are going to look like three to four days from now for both the noon meal and emergency food orders, which is a moving target.
“The reality is that our numbers are changing so aggressively day to day that I’m not sure that we’re projecting exactly what we need and if we try to project greater than that three to five days out – we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” he said during the interview. “We’re banking on our food vendors to be able to keep supplying and sourcing us.”
5. How you can help
Food banks across America are experiencing an increase in need amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Rather than paying retail prices, LCCM works with vendors and retailers to secure food. This means that when you donate a dollar, you’re helping LCCM provide more food for individuals and families than if you donated food that you purchased at the store.
You can make a one-time donation,become a member of our Love Your Neighbor monthly giving club, create your own personal fundraising page for your birthday or keep us in mind for planned giving.
You can also become part of our large network of volunteers. You can sign uphere for emergency volunteering needs or check back here to see the regular needs when we resume normal activities.
Written by Andrea Gillhoolley, Director of Development and Marketing. Contact Andrea at email@example.com or call 717-272 4400 ext. 211
By Bryan Smith, LCCM Executive Director
Providing a homeless shelter is easy, right? I mean, just throw a couple cots on the floor and let folks come in and sleep.
Well, the reality is that it isn’t that easy.
Add to that when you designate your shelter as a family shelter - where men and women will comingle with families and children - and it gets a whole lot more complicated. Safety becomes a significant priority, not that it isn’t a priority at a men’s only or a women’s only shelter, but it certainly creates an interesting dynamic.
The FRESH Start Resource Center and Homeless Shelter has been making it work for the last three years at the LCCM building on South 7th Street.
Before FRESH Start, it was a partnership between Jubilee and Lebanon County Christian Ministries (LCCM) called HOPES. During the three years of service at LCCM, the team has learned a lot about managing the day-to-day operations.
Today, the FRESH Start provides guests with a full kitchen, laundry facilities, a children’s play area, a shower/bathroom, computers for housing and job search needs, and a common space to do homework, pay bills, and many other activities.
The overnight accommodations are provided by generous churches in our community and the volunteer membership who provide the staffing nightly. These spaces are considered congregate living spaces. Each church takes a two-week period to provide snacks and sleeping areas.
All our guests are required to provide a warrant check and a urine screen for illicit drugs.
Once both are clear, the intake process begins.
Offered a small bin for personal effects and storage space on a rack for food, our guests begin a week of acclimation to shelter life and then the case management begins.
What jobs did you apply for today? Have you worked to secure childcare so you can get a job? Did you go to work today and is your performance what your boss is expecting? Did you apply for SNAP benefits or MA? Did you go to your doctor appointment that was on your schedule? Accountability questions posed by our staff to ensure our guests begin to address personal responsibility and executing tasks to meet goals that have been established cooperatively with our team.
Now, enter COVID-19.
Our worlds, just like yours, were turned upside down.
We immediately began to establish an emergency plan of action. This plan of action was a multi-step plan that was intended to be proactive to our guests needs and the ever-changing COVID cases in our community.
We had anticipated a reduction in volunteers and a need to protect the volunteers in the churches. We needed to find a location where we were able to isolate our guests if needed, a place to have a refrigerator, a cooking device (i.e. microwave), and shower facilities.
Meeting all these needs is a hotel/motel. We partnered with a local hotel to establish aggressive rates and were able to quickly register all our guests. We also established a house agreement with each of our guests outlining the expected behaviors and the behaviors that would result in immediate dismissal from our program.
Additionally, we were able to modify our hours of operations and the time our guests spent in our resource center.
We established specific times and days for each family unit to come and prepare meals for the week, pickup needed food for the next week, do their laundry and get any other essentials. Every day our staff checks in with guests, which includes a COVID screening question. This gets documented every day to ensure we identify any concerns immediately.
Through partnership with Wellspan, we have a tablet device that should a guest respond “yes” to any questions on the screening, we could do a virtual urgent care visit at no cost. This plan has afforded our guests and staff with increased safety AND keeping folks accountable.
While there has been a cost associated with this, our decision has been reaffirmed with best practices coming from California. In a recent white paper titled, “Recommended Strategic Approaches for COVID-19 Response for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness – March 2020,” the document states best practices are hotel/motel environments. The Lebanon community has been working diligently to address three classes of individuals:
All three categories have ideal housing solutions to include hotel/motel to address social distancing and isolation.
We believe our early planning and action to partner into a hotel/motel space has provided the highest level of protection for our guests and our staff. After all, safety has been and always will be our priority for our guests, staff, and volunteers.