Anchorage Breakfast Program volunteers Jolyn Gibbel, left, and Estie Valle show off some of the items distributed in Anchorage's daily grab-and-go breakfasts outside the First United Methodist Church, Anchorage's home base. (Photo: Fosterjfoster Productions)
Anchorage Breakfast Program volunteers Jolyn Gibbel, left, and Estie Valle show off some of the items distributed in Anchorage's daily grab-and-go breakfasts outside the First United Methodist Church, Anchorage's home base. (Photo: Fosterjfoster Productions)

Patty Eastep says guests at Anchorage Breakfast Program have told her, "You bring me hope."

Eastep is executive director at Anchorage, the latest incarnation of a ministry that began at St. James Episcopal Church in the 1980s.

In normal times, Anchorage serves free sit-down breakfasts five days a week at First United Methodist Church.

Those who partake are among Lancaster County's neediest. Many are living on the streets; for some, the hot breakfast is their only meal of the day.

Patty Eastep, executive director, Anchorage Breakfast Program (Photo: Fosterjfoster Productions)

Takeout for safety

When the coronavirus pandemic reached Lancaster this spring, Anchorage suspended sit-down dining, to ensure safety and comply with Pennsylvania's guidance for red- and yellow-phase counties. But it hasn't shut down: Instead, it provides the food to go.

Doing so has brought logistical challenges and raised costs, Eastep said. Further complicating matters, the nonprofit had to cancel three fundraisers that normally would have covered about half its annual budget.

Eastep has economized as best she can, but Anchorage still spent about 9% more than its planned outlays through mid-May.

Fortunately, assistance from the Lancaster Cares grant program has enabled Anchorage to adjust.

The grants are "such a blessing to us," Eastep said.

Staffing makes a difference

A takeout breakfast incurs expenses that dining in doesn't. Anchorage now needs to supply bags, disposable plates, cups and bowls and disposable cutlery.

About two dozen volunteers work in the kitchen to prepare the breakfasts. Single-serving milk cartons make it easier to pack meals to go, as do single-serving cereal boxes and premade egg patties. The grants have made those purchases possible.

They also gave Anchorage the financial breathing room to rehire a furloughed guest-services employee, restoring the team to its full complement of three.

They help ensure that the meals are orderly and safe. When the team was down to two, it was stressful, Eastep said; at three, it's easier to keep things running smoothly and offer the hospitality that makes Anchorage special.

It means there's time sit down and talk one-on-one when guests are in crisis and need a sympathetic presence.

Recently, a guest revealed his mother had died of Covid-19. Eastep said it meant a lot that she was able to sit down with the person and offer encouragement.

Anchorage is currently serving about 130 guests a day. They love the breakfasts, Eastep said, and Anchorage has been a refuge for them.

"I'm truly grateful we can keep the doors open and continue to serve those who are hungry," she said.

How you can help

Please consider a donation to Lancaster Cares, a Covid-19 emergency fund set up by Lancaster County Community Foundation and the Lancaster County United Way.

Tim Stuhldreher