WILKES-BARRE — Mary Jo Jenkins was stocking a shipment of food Wednesday afternoon at Sarah’s Table Food Pantry on West Northampton Street as people seeking help to provide meals for their families formed a line.
Jenkins, of Wilkes-Barre, is at the pantry 1 to 3 p.m. each day it is open — every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She finds the time to volunteer, not that she isn’t busy enough at home caring for her 10 children.
“I’m sorry, I’m busy,” Jenkins said as she went about her duties. “I love doing the Lord’s work and helping people in need.”
Sarah’s Pantry recently became a joint effort of the Jewish Community Center and the Open Arms Outreach Ministry of Wilkes-Barre, a ministry of the First Baptist Church, to form an interfaith partnership to distribute food to people in need. It is housed at 71-73 W. Northampton St., in the Jewish Community Alliance building.
Michelle Cirba of Kingston was there to pick up some food for her family of five.
“This helps get us through the month,” Cirba said. “Since the food stamp program was cut, it’s difficult to buy enough food to feed my family. This is a needed program in this community.”
The Rev. Richard Collins, associated minister at First Baptist Church, said volunteers from the church have been working at the pantry for three months.
“The sad thing is that there are so many people who need help,” Collins said. “But that’s why we are here — to help.”
Barbara Sugarman, adult and cultural director at the JCC, said the partnership was formed during a discussion at a meeting on another topic. The Rev. Shawn Walker, pastor at First Baptist Church, said he mentioned his members were willing to help.
“And we needed help,” Sugarman said. “We’ve been here 15 years and we needed volunteers to work the hours we’re open.”
The food is donated through the Weinberg Food Bank at the Commission on Economic Opportunity. Gretchen Hunt, nutrition programs director at CEO, said the Jewish Alliance has long been a food bank member.
“The CEO/Weinberg Regional Food Bank serves members by offering both donated food and access to government commodity food at no cost or very low cost,” Hunt said. “The food bank has 136 member organizations that operate more than 200 programs across NEPA.”
Hunt said all member organizations are non-profits and include food pantries, soup kitchens and youth programs that are often sponsored by religious organizations or civic groups.
Sugarman said that when people arrive they are asked to fill out a form to verify the number of people living in the household. “People can come in once per month,” Sugarman said. “But if the need is severe, we allow a second visit.”
Collins said the partnership makes sense. “We had the volunteers and the pantry needed help,” he said.
Food items change from month to month, but Jenkins said items included in the distributions are canned soup, vegetables, fruit, beef stew and canned chicken, spaghetti, macaroni, egg noodles, juice, frozen chicken, spaghetti sauce, spaghetti rings and juices.
“We are very excited to partner with the JCC on this,” Walker said. “Here we have two organizations working together for the good of the community.”