FRESH Start began as HOPES Shelter in 2012 as a collaborative effort between LCCM and Jubilee Ministries to address a gap in services provided in Lebanon County to help families affected by homelessness. A few years into the collaboration, Jubilee wanted to go in a different direction to focus fully on their mission to serve those affected by incarceration, at which point the LCCM board of directors voted to take on full responsibility of the HOPES program. A capital campaign was initiated to complete structure modifications to the LCCM facility at the South Seventh Street location to provide a daytime resource center. With this transition, HOPES was rebranded to FRESH Start, and moved to the South Seventh Street location.
FRESH Start is the only family-based shelter in Lebanon County that can accommodate any type of family, whether it be a single parent and children, married couples with children, couples, and even some individuals. All proceeds from the Hurdles to Housing fundraiser will benefit the LCCM FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, which provides families and individuals the resources and training needed to empower personal sustainability while providing a safe place to sleep.
FRESH Start housed guests overnight in what is often referred to as a cold shelter model. Guests would sleep on a mat on the floor at a hosting church. Every two weeks, the location would change. This is a model of housing often used for winter sheltering or other emergency scenarios. We have had many dedicated churches over the last decade that provided many hours of critical service.
In March 2020, guests were housed in a hotel during the pandemic. This was a difficult time for many reasons. At LCCM, we struggled with case management and connections with our guests. What was thought to be a quick couple of weeks turned into a 22-month stay in the hotel setting. We experienced our highest average number of guests per night in the history of FRESH Start. During the pandemic, LCCM did not stop dreaming or planning. It was apparent a need to create a single site location for the shelter was important. The top priority was to establish a location that would provide consistency and stability for our guests, specifically children. In February of 2022, a partnership with the Chestnut Street Community Center was launched to host our guests overnight, providing a single location just a couple of blocks from LCCM.
Just three months prior, the LCCM board of directors approved a three-year strategic plan with one of the priorities to establish a single site shelter location. After completing due diligence and searching for potential sites, an agreement to engage in a long-term relationship with the Chestnut Street Community Center was ratified by the board.
In the middle of the pandemic, a generous anonymous donor provided LCCM with $200,000 restricted for use to establish a permanent site for FRESH Start. After discussions with the Chestnut Street Community Center, it was determined that LCCM would provide $200,000 in lease holder improvements to the 4,100 square foot second floor at the center. This is part of a much larger renovation project.
Several other partners have stepped up to support the mission of the Chestnut Street Community Center. There is abundant beauty in community! Through these partnerships, the work has begun with an elevator and now the renovations to the space FRESH Start will occupy. Here are a few highlights of the new space:
While we have been abundantly blessed with a location, the funding to do the lease holder agreements, and having many partnerships, including financial support from the Stabler Foundation, the operations of FRESH Start continue to be costly. We must continue to raise funds to support more than $300,000 in staffing. Staffing is critical to the programming of FRESH Start.
Without our staff, there is no program. This is where we need you! During the month of August, we will hold our annual fundraising campaign, Hurdles to Housing.
Our goal is to raise $20,000.
We can achieve this if we can simply get 40 individuals or groups to commit to raising $500 each. This can be achieved by creating your own Facebook fundraiser, by going to our Hurdles to Housing page, or simply mailing a donation to:
Lebanon County Christian Ministries
250 S 7th St.
Lebanon, PA 17042
Lebanon, PA – Lebanon County Christian Ministries (LCCM), a leading provider of food, clothing, and shelter is excited to announce its upcoming transition from a prepackaged pantry model to a choice pantry model. This strategic shift aims to better meet the diverse needs and preferences of our guests while fostering a sense of empowerment and dignity within our community.
In the current prepackaged model, requests are received and processed by our dedicated volunteers. Each order is customized to the specific family and a pick-up time is scheduled. However, after careful evaluation and feedback from our guests, volunteers, and community partners, we have recognized the importance of offering a more personalized and flexible approach to food distribution.
The transition to a choice pantry model will empower our guests to select the items they need, creating a more dignified and inclusive experience. With this new model, guests will have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of fresh produce, non-perishable goods, and other essential items, tailored to their specific dietary requirements and cultural preferences. The new choice pantry is branded “the Market on 7th.” The Market on 7th hours of distribution are Mondays from noon until 3pm, Tuesdays from 10am until 1pm, Wednesdays from 9am until 1pm, and Thursdays from 4pm until 7pm. Guests may visit the Market on 7th every fourteen days and no appointment is necessary. More information can be found at: https://www.lccm.us/food.html
This shift is part of our commitment to enhancing the overall well-being of the individuals and families we serve. By providing choice, we believe we can better address food insecurity while promoting self-sufficiency and allowing our guests to maintain a sense of agency over their food choices.
LCCM would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our dedicated volunteers, generous donors, and supportive community partners, whose contributions and collaboration make this transition possible. Together, we are creating a more inclusive and empowering environment for those in need.
For media inquiries, interviews, or further information, please contact:
Bryan D. Smith
Lebanon County Christian Ministries connects people to food, clothing, shelter, and other essential services to provide for today, while taking a holistic approach to help low-income Lebanon County residents overcome circumstances and achieve greater independence for tomorrow.
One in 10 Lebanon County residents faces food insecurity.
This means that nearly 14,000 individuals do not have certain access to adequate food throughout the year.
That’s according to the latest Hunger Mapping project, an in-depth look at food insecurity in Lebanon County conducted by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
The report will help assist in improving access to charitable food, better understanding of the causes of food insecurity in Lebanon County, and ultimately working to end hunger across the county.
Health, community, will play critical role in noon meal's future
The report comes at a critical time.
Extra food assistance benefits put into place during the pandemic ended in March.
Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, will no longer see a second payment, known as the emergency allotment, in their accounts.
Food insecurity is expected to continue rising. The perfect storm of inflation and SNAP cuts will likely put increased pressure on local food banks and pantries such as Lebanon County Christian Ministries. The projected average per person loss in SNAP benefits per month is $104 in Lebanon County.
Here are 5 highlights from the Hunger Mapping report in Lebanon County that you should know.
Read the full Hunger Mapping Interim report here.
1. Lebanon County has an overall food insecurity rate of 9.8%
- Hunger Mapping Interim Report, January 2023/ Central Pennsylvania Food Bank
Lebanon County has an overall food insecurity rate of 9.8%, with 13,750 food insecure individuals. The City of Lebanon, however, has just 18% of the population, but is home to 39% of all food insecure individuals. In particular, the northwest part of the city is experiencing food insecurity rates of over 20% while the southwest part of the city has rates between 16-20%.
2. Children are 71% more likely to be food insecure than adults in Lebanon County
- Hunger Mapping Interim Report, January 2023/ Central Pennsylvania Food Bank
Lebanon County has a low food insecurity rate compared to Pennsylvania as a whole (9.8% vs. 10.7%), but its disparity in food insecurity rates between adults and children is among the highest in the state. Children are 71% more likely to be food insecure than adults in Lebanon County, with a food insecurity rate of 14.4% compared to just 8.4% of adults. This is the 14th highest age disparity among all 67 counties in the state, indicating that child food insecurity is a unique challenge in Lebanon County. The issue of childhood poverty and food insecurity is especially pronounced in Lebanon City. Child poverty is the main differentiating factor between high food insecurity and moderate and low food insecurity areas, with child poverty in high food insecurity areas an astounding 39%.
3. Half of Lebanon city households qualify for federal and state-funded charitable food
- Hunger Mapping Interim Report, January 2023/ Central Pennsylvania Food Bank
About 25% of all Lebanon County households have incomes below 185% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) (total annual income of $51,338 for a household of 4). This means these households are eligible for federal and state-funded charitable food. A staggering 50% of Lebanon City’s population (over 12,500 residents) has incomes below 185% FPL.
- Hunger Mapping Interim Report, January 2023/ Central Pennsylvania Food Bank
11% of households in Lebanon County live paycheck to paycheck but do not qualify for state-funded charitable food
Just over 6,000 households (11% of all households) defined by the United Way as ALICE (Asset-limited, income-constrained, employed) do not qualify for state-funded charitable food in Lebanon County. These households live paycheck to paycheck and may need to access charitable food to make ends meet. The report suggests efforts should be made to ensure that privately funded programs are accessible.
- Hunger Mapping Interim Report, January 2023/ Central Pennsylvania Food Bank
Over 12% of Lebanon County residents participate in SNAP
A total of 17,681 individuals, or approximately 12.3% of the total Lebanon County population, participated in SNAP as of November 2022. This is nearly equal to the pandemic peak of 17,715 in May 2020 and just below the all-time peak of 17,920 individuals at the height of the Great Recession in November 2012. Lebanon County specifically is in the top half of SNAP participation rates in the state – ranked 26th out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania with a family SNAP participation rate of 93%. Palmyra Borough, however, has the largest SNAP participation gap in Lebanon County, with over 1,500 individuals likely eligible but not participating in SNAP. Census tract level analysis reveals these gaps are concentrated in South Londonderry Township and the northern portion of Palmyra.
Read the full report
For decades, LCCM’s free noon meal program was a dine-in program open to anyone in the community who needed a meal. COVID-19 brought that model to a screeching halt in 2020.
For the next 22 months, guests could only pick up a take-out meal. The noon meal went from serving an average of 75-100 people a day pre-pandemic, to more than 250 people daily.
Because of the significant increase, many of the meals had to be rapidly prepared each day, and as a result were higher in sodium, saturated fat and sugar.
When the noon meal resumed dine-in service in May 2022 and the average number of guests fell back to pre-pandemic levels, staff noticed many guests said they suffered from chronic health conditions, ranging from diabetes to cancer.
2022 was a year of reflection for the noon meal program: How will it look moving forward? What kind of food should be served? Is it only about serving a meal, or could it be more?
We went straight to the source and conducted two surveys: an informal survey with guests about their food preferences, as well as a formal, in-depth survey conducted by a team from Penn State REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health), a national program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.
Of the 64 guests surveyed by Penn State REACH, 73% indicated they had a chronic illness.
Of those who said they had a chronic illness, 49% have high blood pressure, 34.7% have diabetes, 28.6% have high cholesterol, 18.4% have heart disease, and 32.7% answered ‘other.’ Additionally, 46.9% said they have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
“This meal is our community’s meal, and we want to serve them,” said Bryan Smith, LCCM’s executive director. “We believe we have learned a lot through this survey and our partnership with Penn State REACH. We intend to continue to institute best practices and make changes, which are valued by our guests, and creating an environment where each guest is a person and relationships are valued.”
Here are five other highlights from the survey:
According to the informal food choice survey conducted by Heather Kumler, LCCM’s free noon meal coordinator, LCCM identified the top meats, vegetables and fruits guests prefer. Beef, chicken and fish were the top three meats, while broccoli, green beans and peas were the top vegetables. Guests surveyed also indicated a preference for fresh fruit, not canned, and preferred fruit salad medley, followed by pineapple and mandarin oranges.
“We will strive to bring health and high-quality food to this meal,” Smith said. “While food is a big part of it, community is clearly valued by those we serve. We want to DO our mission and vision: to share the love of Jesus by sharing this meal and invest in people and improve lives. The noon meal provides a platform for connections.”
Hearing directly from our guests about their needs and views provides crucial information that will not only help LCCM design programs tailored to specific needs, but it will help our community partners engage directly with guests to get the services they need.
We are excited to see the changes that will happen at LCCM and in people’s lives over the course of 2023.
Please help us welcome our newest team member, Maria Fischer.
Maria is assuming the role of nutrition program manager. In her role, Maria will work to enhance the quality of food, the types of food being distributed, and will work to bring best practices into play with our food distribution.
Maria was most recently a food services director for a local school district and has her master’s degree in health nutrition with a focus in social determinates of health. Maria and her husband live in the Lebanon community, and we are excited to welcome her to the team!
Today, Kelsey lives with her two young children in Texas. She’s a working mother, doing the best she can to get acclimated to her new environment after spending years in Lebanon County.
It’s a big change. But the significance of the move is bigger.
In the fall of 2020, LCCM published a story about Kelsey and her son AJ, who was three years old at the time. It was her third stay in the shelter, and it was during the pandemic.
In that story, she said her hope for the future was that she could build a life that would allow AJ to flourish in school and to lead a happy, healthy life.
She didn’t know at the time how hard that road would be. She struggled to hold onto that hope and make it a reality.
Despite having enough savings, thanks to her time at FRESH Start, she opted to pay for a hotel room when she moved out because apartments were difficult to find in Lebanon County during the pandemic.
Her savings dwindled as she paid for a hotel room, and eventually she had to leave. She also felt it was best to house her son with his grandmother. This is when things began to take a turn for the worst.
She was still working, but she and her son’s father were living on the streets, sleeping in parks under trees and bridges. It wasn’t long before she began doing drugs again.
“I felt nothing,” she said. “You go into survival mode and do whatever you can to stay alive.”
One night she had bags of clothing sitting outside as she waited for a ride. She went into a store to get something to drink and when she came out her clothing was gone.
She eventually made her way back to Lebanon County Christian Ministries and would pick up clothing and food items in the lobby. She was approached by shelter staff members who cared for her and were concerned.
“They wanted me to come back in for the very last time,’ she said.
The next couple of weeks that followed were critical with two goals in mind: keep Kelsey safe and away from drugs and get Kelsey and AJ on a plane to Texas to be reunited with her mother and her other child, Olivia.
A LCCM staff member worked tirelessly around the clock for those two weeks. During that time, Kelsey began reading a bible in her hotel room. Staff then got Kelsey her own bible, and she began letting the words sink in as she highlighted verses and passages that gave her hope.
But she was struggling because she was still detoxing from drugs. Then one day, a staff member told Kelsey to immediately pack her bags - she was going to Texas.
“I cried for like 20 minutes,” Kelsey said. “I wasn’t expecting to go right then. I thought, ‘wow, this is really happening.’”
When she arrived in Texas, she was reunited with her daughter, who she hadn’t seen in over two years.
AJ, now 5, starts school in the fall, and is learning how to be a big brother.
“It just feels right,” she said. “I think ‘wow, so this is what it’s supposed to be like. This is the way it should have been.”
Kelsey is sober, working, saving money, and trying to get a home for her family. She knows she still has a long road ahead, but she is hopeful.
“A lot of people tend to beat themselves up about what they are doing. But the more you put yourself down, the worse it’s going to get,” she said. “You have to find people that are going to help you look forward and pick you up and keep going. If no one else is going to lift you up, you got to do it for you, and trust all the rest will fall into place.”
For one week before Anthony arrived at FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, he was homeless and sleeping under a bridge.
“To be honest, I was used to it,” he said during an interview in June.
For nearly a decade, Anthony lived doubled up with relatives, couch surfed at friend’s homes, or found himself living on the street.
For periods of his life, Anthony lacked a sense of belonging and community. Spending years in the foster care system, bouncing around from home to home didn’t leave much time to make friends or forge deep relationships.
“It felt horrible,” he said. “That’s the best way for me to put it. Because it’s like, ok well, my mom and dad didn’t want me, so why don’t these people want me?”
Anthony did eventually get adopted and experienced stability in his new family.
“After I got adopted, it sort of settled down because my mom is the most wonderful person in the world,” he said. “She has always been my rock and someone I could always go to, even now.”
But the nagging sense of loneliness and abandonment in his early years took a toll.
When he was 20 years old, he moved out and started out on his own.
For the next decade, Anthony found himself in a cycle of employment, unemployment, transient living, homelessness, alcoholism and drug use.
“Pretty much the streets are all I know,” he said.
When he was 23, he entered the long-term men’s program at Lebanon Rescue Mission, which helped him maintain sobriety from hard drugs, then entered HOPES (the former shelter name of FRESH Start) at LCCM.
At HOPES, staff helped him find employment and provided the stability he needed so he could reset his finances and start over.
He found a room and was soon discharged. He was making money, but soon he fell back into old habits and his money was going toward alcohol.
“It was not a fun road,” he said.
The cycle continued for the next six years, which brought him to FRESH Start in May.
“The staff are really keeping me encouraged to keep going and to work every day. They are helping me with budgeting,” he said. “I always have good laughs with all of them, but they are really there for me when I feel upset or when I feel anger…it just feels nice to express how I actually feel about things …they give me good advice, too.”
Though he has fears about the future, he is hopeful and is trying to change his circumstances with the guidance and support of LCCM staff.
Because he doesn’t have to worry about where he will sleep or when he will eat next, now he can focus on other things, such as working toward obtaining his driver’s license, working full-time and looking for a room to rent. Eventually he wants to own his own home and start his own business.
“This is a great place for anybody that’s really wanting the help and is actually willing to work themselves, for themselves, to really want to change. It’s definitely helped me change a lot – mentally, physically and spiritually,” he said. “What more could a person want who’s really wanting to change?”
It’s 8:30 and the front doors of Lebanon County Christian ministries open for a day of service. There is a group of about 15 guests who are ready to enter the lobby for a myriad of needs. Some come regularly, some are looking for immediate relief of hunger by finding food made available through the food rescue work of LCCM, and others are requesting assistance with their natural gas bill. Wait, their what? Yes, that is correct – their natural gas bill.
LCCM has been a long-time partner of UGI, the local provider of natural gas. Our community uses natural gas for heating, hot water, and cooking. The natural gas provider, UGI, is not just a company that gives gas and takes money to pay your utility bill. UGI is a giver! Through a program managed by the Customer Outreach Team at UGI, programs exist to aid those who are struggling to pay their natural gas utility bill. The Responsible Utility Customer Protection Act, also known as Act 201, provides protections to utility customers who pay their bill, follow through with payment arrangements, make a required deposit, and allow the utility company to access its equipment.
When a UGI customer faces a hardship, they can reach out to the team at LCCM for assistance. “We are blessed to be a partner with UGI and assist with the applications and follow-up of our community members who are utilizing the assistance programs of UGI,” states Bryan Smith LCCM’s Executive Director.
LCCM has made a commitment to the UGI program by hiring a dedicated team member to process the UGI program applications and a second staff member who assists. “UGI provides funding to LCCM for each application and follow-up we conduct,” Smith continued. “The funding helps offset the cost of our front desk staff and provides us the ability to better serve our guests every day.”
Brian Meilinger, Senior Manager of Customer Programs at UGI shared “UGI is pleased to partner with local Community Based Organizations like LCCM to provide assistance to our customers and neighbors. The UGI team is here to help – either through LCCM, by calling (800) UGI-WARM or visiting https://www.ugi.com/here-to-help.”
UGI’s commitment goes beyond the programs of UGI Operation Share and UGI Customer Assistance Program. UGI also holds annual employee giving campaigns to support the United Way in their footprint, and staff can contribute to the UGI Operation Share program.
“We wanted to highlight the partnership with UGI so our community knows we are always looking for ways to support the needs of our community,” states Smith. Beyond the UGI program, LCCM also aids with water and sewer bills and heating oil. Each program has its own eligibility criteria and anyone who is in need must call the LCCM office for more information, details, and direction for enrollment.
Smith refers to a small statement from the book When Helping Hurts, when expressing why this type of an arrangement works. The statement reads, “North American Christians need to be giving more, not less, money to help the poor. But how that money is given and to whom it is given is crucial. We need to look for ways to give money that builds up local organizations and that truly empowers the poor.” LCCM is a local organization with a vision statement that reads, “Investing in people. Improving lives.”
After lifetime of trauma, Palmyra woman 'finally ready to invest in this life I never thought I wanted.'
Behind every phone call to LCCM is a story. This is Amy’s.
Amy was physically and verbally abused by her first stepmother. She and her siblings were sequestered in their bedrooms for three years where they studied and ate food on the floor.
They wasn’t allowed outside to play. She got lost in books and lost in her mind as her only means of escape.
She was given 30 minutes to eat with a timer put in front of her.
“I was beaten if I didn’t finish in time,” she said.
She was given huge portions and sometimes inedible meals.
“I figured out I could stop in the bathroom on my way to take my tray back to the kitchen and scrape my food into the toilet,” she said. “It began as a means of survival around age 9 and it became a lifelong battle with anorexia.
Though her stepmother eventually left and the physical abuse stopped, a new form of abuse began when her grandfather began molesting her at age 11.
This is when she made her first suicide attempt.
Amy was unsuccessful in her attempt but told herself that she didn’t want to be alive past the age of 18.
Her father remarried, and shortly afterward Amy was reunited with her mother at age 13. However, she didn’t feel safe at her mother’s house because different men would stay the night.
From age 16 on, Amy lived with people she babysat for, coworkers, and even lived in her car.
She became increasingly more self-destructive as she approached her cutoff age of 18. Already anorexic, she began exercising for hours every day and cutting herself.
After coming down with a stomach illness, a teacher noticed Amy’s absence and began to see all the signs of a mental health crisis. Amy was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital.
“That saved my life,” she said.
Though she continued to struggle, Amy eventually married and became a stepmother herself – something she always feared due to her own childhood experience. But her fears were alleviated when Amy connected with the child and loved her as her own.
But six years into her marriage, Amy and her husband divorced.
“So I ran,” she said.
And she ran from Texas to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
It was here she decided to reinvent herself as a singer.
She found much success in Pennsylvania, performing with her band as the opening act for several major recording artists, seeing her name and face on billboards and even writing and recording her own songs.
“To everyone around me, it looked like I really had things together and was on my way to big things,” she said. “But in truth, it was all a persona. I got to pretend all those bad things had happened to someone else. But the real Amy underneath that persona was drowning. I sabotaged my own success.”
Amy was raped in 2005. Shortly after that her mother died. After the traumatic events, Amy was hospitalized at age 33 at what was then known as Philhaven, today known as Wellspan Philhaven, a comprehensive behavioral and mental health facility headquartered in West Cornwall Township.
“They educated me, they ministered to me, they believed in me, and they refused to give up on me,” she said.
It was at Philhaven where Amy was connected to outside services that helped her rebuild her life.
Philhaven arranged for her to stay at Lebanon Rescue Mission’s Agape Family Shelter until an apartment opened through a housing program between Philhaven, the Housing Authority and Mental Health and the Lebanon County Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention program.
She was able to utilize LCCM’s food pantry and Emergency Food Assistance Program. Recovering from anorexia meant her body changed and her clothing became too small. She couldn’t afford new clothing, so she used LCCM’s clothing bank as well.
“I was embarrassed and ashamed to need their help,” she said. “But at LCCM I wasn’t treated like the lose cause I believed I was. I was treated with such kindness. Like a real person worthy of their time and effort.”
LCCM met Amy’s basic needs, which was foundational for her to address other areas of her life in recovery.
She used a few of Wellspan Philhaven’s outpatient programs. The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation offered her assistance in education. Compeer, a nonprofit that focuses on friendship and support for people living with mental illness, provided a sense of community in Lebanon where Amy didn’t know many people, and SARCC provided specialized counseling for the sexual abuse she endured. When she moved to Palmyra, she was able to use the Caring Cupboard food pantry as well.
Today, Amy continues to work hard in therapy, learning new ways of thinking and coping. She still has a strong relationship with her stepdaughter, and has built a strong support network. She continues to rely on her professional supports, though to less necessity. She gives back in ways she can through ministry, volunteerism, and activism.
“God showed me I am capable of having a happy and productive life that I don’t have to give up,” she said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but at 50, I’m finally ready to invest in this life I never thought I wanted.”
Behind every phone call to Lebanon County Christian Ministries is a story.
On the surface, Tiffany Wade’s story was straight forward. Her apartment building was being sold, and she found herself with a temporary need for shelter for a few weeks.
But there was a lengthy journey leading up to her stay at LCCM’s FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, one she believes God orchestrated for a larger purpose: to offer hope by sharing her life’s story.
'I lost every family member'
On Jan. 17, Tiffany is looking forward to marking a milestone: five years of uninterrupted sobriety from drugs and alcohol.
It’s surreal to think about, she says, as she reflected on her life in FRESH Start’s resource center in September.
Tiffany has had more near-death experiences than she can count. She’s lost most of her family members to drugs and spent years of her life in and out of jail, drug rehabs and halfway houses.
“My mother was one of the first people that I used with,” she said. “She taught me how to use a syringe and prostitute, and all of that.”
During one of her prison sentences in 2011, Tiffany received the news just three weeks before her release that her mother – her last surviving family member – had died of an overdose.
“I’ve been using since a very young age. I lost every family member except for my uncle who is still actively using back home. I lost my mother, my grandmother and my grandfather,” she said.
Not only was she grieving the loss of her mother, but she had to prepare for her release.
She was accepted into Jubilee Ministries in Lebanon in 2011.
“I can see back now in hindsight it was definitely a divine act of my higher power because I got sober in Lebanon,” she said. “A lot of people told me ‘why would you choose to come to Lebanon, but I really didn’t choose Lebanon. This is what was chosen for me, it was the path for me.”
Tiffany was doing well in Jubilee and graduated after six months. She was presented with an opportunity to possibly work for the ministry, but a couple of months later she relapsed.
'I don't want to live that way anymore'
She left the program and used the money she had saved to rent an apartment in Lebanon. But her addiction began to consume her life.
She ended up in a cycle of addiction and prison through 2016. During her last stay in jail she said she got down on her knees and prayed.
“The reality of it was, I was in my early 30s, and I was homeless, I had no family members left I was strung out on drugs even in jail, so I said to Him simply, ‘God, if I can’t get this right, just take me,” she said. “I don’t want to live that way anymore.”
That was the last time she was ever incarcerated.
Road to recovery
After her release from prison, she spent some time at a Salvation Army. She came back to Lebanon in early 2017 but had nowhere to go.
“I got dropped off at a Turkey Hill, and I can remember looking left, and then right, and I was like, oh man, what am I going to do?” she said. “So, I stood there for a minute, and I cried, but I remembered I had this piece of paper in my bag from an alcoholics anonymous meeting on 10th Street. I have one lady’s number on this list and said if I ever needed help to call her.”
The woman picked her up and drove her to an AA meeting.
“They told me I never have to drink or use again, and I didn’t believe that because I lost everybody,” she said. “I had been drinking and using my whole entire life. I’ve used IV drugs, I I’ve smoked crack, I ran for days until my body shut down…I just didn’t think I’d make it out alive,” she said.
Once she entered recovery and began working the 12 steps of recovery, she says her life began to come together.
She became a facilitator at a local AA group, and for the next four years had worked on rebuilding her life. She got an apartment in Lebanon, she was working, and developed a good financial track record. But in 2021, the apartment building where she was living was sold and she had nowhere to go.
A fresh start
In the meantime, she needed somewhere to stay in August 2021, and that’s when FRESH Start entered the picture.
“I was a little discouraged in the beginning, like, how am I homeless after all these years of recovery? I’m not really financially strapped. I was just a little discouraged,” she said. “But when I came through here, they were just so kind and I was like, OK, God, maybe this is the next step I have to take. Just stay humble, keep going, and don’t get discouraged.”
And then FRESH Start staff suggested she talk to a staff member to tell her story.
“I was asking God every day…’What’s my purpose in all of this? Ok, so maybe my purpose is to be able to share my story even through this program to help others know that this is possible. I truly believe this was the link. It was like a blessing in disguise,” she said.
“God is real. And if it wasn’t for him, I would not be sober and these things in my life would not be happening,” she said.
In 2021, not only did she obtain her driver’s license for the first time and bought a car, but she began looking for homes. Though she was prepared to buy a home early into her stay at FRESH Start, the sale fell through, and she spent more time in the shelter than anticipated.
She is now renting temporarily until God reveals the next chapter. Until then, Tiffany feels blessed to be able to celebrate five years of sobriety in January.
“You can change your life,” she said. “You can search for God and He will help you on a journey that is beyond your wildest dreams.”
Lebanon County Christian Ministries