Meeting Food Access and Housing Needs in Eastern Berks

When asked to list the most challenging issues facing residents of the eastern portion of Berks County, United Way agency partner, Boyertown Area Multi-Services (BAMS), notes two key needs: food access and housing. Like many nonprofits, the agency has seen an increase in clients in the fallout of the pandemic.

“We are really trying to address issues of post-pandemic homelessness and homelessness prevention. We are trying to keep people in their homes,” Rob Laubenheimer, executive director, said.

Preston’s Pantry, the food bank run by Multi-Services, supports food needs. It provides fresh, frozen and preserved meats, vegetables, fruits and other edibles, as well as cleaning, personal hygiene, baby and pet care products. The pantry increased its hours and added evening distributions to accommodate those working or caring for children during the day. In 2020, the pantry served 200 Berks families a month, doubling the number served from the prior year.

The pantry often is what first comes to mind when many locals think of BAMS, Laubenheimer said. The food bank was named last year in memory of Preston Dray, 9, who died with his mother, when a flash flood of the Manatawny Creek swept their car in Douglass Township in 2019. As a third-grade student in the Boyertown Area School District’s Pine Forge Elementary School, Preston led a food drive for a class assignment.

BAMS also provides case management, Meals on Wheels and a senior center. Additional services include helping with unemployment budgeting and job-interview training, the agency’s case managers can assist  qualifying individuals and families apply for assistance with utility and fuel bills and provide referrals for other services.

Laubenheimer credits the community and United Way for strong support. “We took it (the pandemic) as an opportunity to figure out how we could be doing better. It’s all about community.”