Grace Chapel's food pantry building. (Source: Grace Chapel)
Grace Chapel's food pantry building. (Source: Grace Chapel)

Food pantries are well-oiled machines: boxes, bags, donations, volunteers, schedules and more coming together in the name of community care.

But when one piece goes out, problems ensue.

In the case of the Grace Chapel Food Pantry, the problem came in the form of a broken down box truck; a crucial piece of the supply system.

Increased need = increased resources

When the Covid-19 pandemic began hitting the Lancaster County community, the food pantry saw an increased need for services.

The number of families served during the pandemic has risen to around 100 per month, compared to around 80 per month in 2019, said Grace Chapel’s senior pastor, Melvin Weaver.

Beverly Gill

However, the pantry also saw an influx of help offered to meet the need.

Pantry volunteers — plus local students while school was out — worked quickly to adapt to creating food boxes for delivery instead of the in-person service, said Grace Chapel’s financial secretary, Beverly Gill.

Additionally, several local farmers began offering donations of perishables such as milk, vegetables, meat and cheese. All of this was combined with the pantry’s usual monthly purchases from Blessings of Hope and, most recently, Midwest Food Bank.

“Nothing goes to waste and everyone gets what they need,” said Gill. “These are the rules.”

All of this was usually picked up via the pantry’s box truck, which brought the system to a standstill when the truck’s manifold and exhaust system needed intensive repair.

Enter the Lancaster Cares grant.

The pantry received a grant of $5,000; $3,036 of which went toward getting the box truck back up and running for it’s weekly trips to retrieve food bank purchases.

(Source: Grace Chapel)

With the remainder of the money, the pantry was able to work on fixing the building’s heating and cooling system for volunteers and in preparation for the eventual return of in-person services.

$500 of the grant was also used to update the handicap ramp to the building to increase accessibility, Gill said.

The behind-the-scenes of Grace Chapel Food Pantry

The Dauphin County church has been running since the 1960s under the care of Weaver and his father, Luke Weaver, Sr.

The church sits right on the border of Dauphin and Lancaster County, so clients — and food donations — come from both.

The food pantry has been operating for 30 years and started out as just a small initiative to collect food for Grace Chapel’s older congregants.

Pastor Melvin Weaver

Eventually, the program expanded to include local residents in need.

Since 2014, using Blessings of Hope as its main food provider, the food pantry has been steadily giving out groceries every Wednesday evening, with families often coming monthly for food assistance. Families may also call for perishable items and emergency needs in between.

“I’m so grateful to not just be helping people spiritually, but practically as well,” said Gill. “We’re becoming a pipeline to help others.”

Olivia Smucker