Meeting Food Needs in Northern Berks

When living in rural areas of our community, challenges can include greater isolation with fewer social resources, such as safe and affordable housing, income supports, food assistance, job training and transportation.

Friend, Inc. Community Services, a United Way agency partner, is based just outside Kutztown and helps families and individuals living in the Fleetwood, Brandywine Heights and Kutztown area school districts. Jim Reece, Executive Director, describes the organization as “the local resource for food and other human services in northeastern Berks County”.

Friend, Inc. offers a self-select food pantry several times a month, where clients select the groceries and fresh food that appeal to them. They also operate the on-campus pantry for Kutztown University students. More recently, a mobile pantry opened at Huff’s Union Church, Hereford Township. The purchase of a refrigerated box truck and a large walk-in freezer, supported by a state grant, made the mobile market possible and further supports the food reclamation and redistribution efforts from area grocers that otherwise would go to waste.

The agency was able to expand services and currently serves nearly 750 individuals, or about 300 families a month. Nearly 2,000 pounds of food is distributed on a typical pantry day. The nonprofit’s main, mobile, and satellite pantries are stocked largely through donations and a partnership with Helping Harvest Food Bank, a recipient of United Way COVID response grants.

At a recent pantry day, Tammy Hamm of Kutztown helped her 84-year-old father, Clarence Schaeffer, select nutritional foods for his meals for the next month. Clarence filled his cart with frozen meats, fresh vegetables and other wholesome foods, before topping it off with a small ice-cream cake – a welcome treat for the octogenarian.

Friend, Inc. has been extremely helpful to Clarence, and his daughter hopes that by sharing her father’s story more seniors and others in need will be encouraged to reach out to Friend, Inc. for help.

“Hunger is often the first indication that an individual or family needs help”, noted Reece. Yet, people are often reluctant to disclose their situation, determined to go hungry before asking for help. “Where there is food insecurity,” Reece said, “there are probably other needs as well.”

With United Way’s support, the agency offers a range of services. Friend, Inc. Community Services can help by offering case management services connecting those in need to other programs such as medical assistance benefits, food/utility assistance, help with rent rebate claims, and referrals to other agencies such as Safe Berks, Family Guidance and Maternal and Family Services (WIC) who have satellite offices at Friend, Inc. Their on-site presence makes it more convenient for rural community members to take advantage of the support that these agencies offer. Friend, Inc. also serves as a Salvation Army service unit and can supply vouchers for clients in need of clothing, furniture, prescriptions, and nonfood items.

“Friend is here to help make northeastern Berks a safer, healthier, place to live. We are here for our community,” Reece said.