As the saying goes, chicken soup is good for the soul, and the Hollidaysburg Soup Program continues to nourish the community with a hot meal and a time of fellowship during the winter months.
The Hollidaysburg Soup Program has served countless varieties of soup to the community since 1999, when First Presbyterian Church launched the initiative. Since then, the program grew into a local favorite with the help of several churches and volunteers.
Program Coordinator Eileen Snyder joined after the late Virigina Smith of First Presbyterian Church invited her to attend one of the soup distribution days. Snyder and her church, St. John’s Reformed, became involved. Snyder said in 2005 that the two churches decided to send a letter to other churches in Hollidaysburg asking them to get involved. St. Michael’s Catholic Church and Hollidaysburg Church of the Brethren joined, and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church joined in 2006.
“And we’ve been doing it ever since,” said Snyder.
The program evolved over the years with churches cutting back from four-week meals to two or three due to fluctuations in the number of congregations in all churches, according to Snyder.
She said First Presbyterian resigned from the program this year due to coronavirus. Snyder said the ongoing pandemic caused a few changes to the program.
John Reformed Church started the program on January 8 with drive-thru distribution. Snyder said the church did the same thing twice last year with distributions in March and November.
“We have a small social hall, and when we get people in for soup, it’s crowded,” Cheats explained. “In fact, sometimes there are people standing in line waiting for someone to get up and leave.”
Snyder said that St. John’s has the smallest social space of the participating churches, comfortably seating 80. Each participating church makes its own format decision, according to Snyder.
“We decided it was not a good choice for safety’s sake,” she said.
Snyder explained that those in financial need participate in the program, but also seniors who need community. She said it was difficult to adapt the program, but felt it was the right choice for the church and those participating in the program.
“They can drive through without much contact,” she said. “Hopefully we can keep the COVID-19s down, but still seek out the local community and meet the needs of the community.”
Like last year, Snyder said she put up a sign with the soups available – including the ever-popular chicken noodles – and volunteers deliver the desired soups right to the driver’s window. Snyder said there is a two-liter or four-pint soup and a bread limit per serving. car because they often run dry.
Individual volunteers donate the bread, the ingredients and their time to make the soups, while the church spends some money on supplies like plastic-to-go containers for this year’s distribution. The proceeds from the volunteer offer go to the supplies, but Snyder said donating is not mandatory.
“We welcome everything we get and we’re just happy to be able to provide this service to the community,” said Snyder.
St. Michaels continues the soup and community tradition.
Rita Pompa is a member of St. Michael’s Parish, who loves to cook. After the church’s former soup program director retired, Pompa was asked if she was willing to take over and coordinate. She and her husband, Joe, decided to answer the call.
“We are a team” said Pompa.
Pompa said her husband acts like “Soup guru,” while she spends time setting up the social hall and coordinating volunteer and dessert coverage. The duo has been involved in the Hollidaysburg Soup Program for about eight to 10 years, she said.
Pompa said the soup program has evolved into a social event at St. Michael’s. With eight different types of soup and an open dessert table, Pompa said the church hosts personal dining to meet community needs for community.
“We hope it gets people out; we hope it brings people together, ” she said.
Volunteers participating in St. Michael’s meals include those from the church, but also other churches, bridge clubs, and bowling teams. Pompa said the soup meals are a great way to meet service hours for members of the confirmation class or others who may need community service hours.
“It’s a great way for them to have their classes,” she said.
Pompa urged the local community to come out to the event and noted that there is enough food for everyone.
“If anyone wants a bowl of every single one of those pots of soup, they are very welcome to do so,” said Pompa.
Other participating churches include Hollidaysburg Church of the Brethren, which will host two soup-Saturdays in a drive-thru distribution, according to its website. St. Mary Roman Catholic Church will host its distribution in person, according to the church office.
St. Luke’s feeds Altoona
Outside of the Hollidaysburg Soup Program, there are other churches and community organizations that host food distributions and meals. Other churches in the area offer free packed lunches, such as Providence Presbyterian Church in Altoona, which offers a hot dog, soup, dessert and fruit on Saturday, January 15 via drive-thru from 6 p.m. 11.30 to 12.30. Churches and organizations show these free meals and events in the Religion section, which is published on Friday in the mirror. St Luke’s Episocopal Church hosts a pantry once a month.
The program started when Woody Pyeatt and his wife moved from Texas to Altoona to be closer to family, he joined St. Louis. Luke’s Episocopal Church. Pyeatt said that St. Luke’s congregation is small but has a great calling to reach out and help their community. The church itself is located in Altoona on Eighth Avenue and 13th Street, with many neighbors in need of resources, Pyeatt explained. When he wanted to join, he approached the church and asked if they could start a pantry.
“I had always wanted to make something like a pantry, and they said, ‘Well, go ahead.'” Pyeatt, who serves as a junior guard at St. Luke’s, he said.
Volunteers in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church hosts a monthly food distribution to anyone in the community who needs help. Volunteers previously held in person “shopping” experiences inside the church pantry, but now connects with the needy via a drive-thru event.
“With the pandemic and restrictions on our volunteers, we just can not do it,” said Pyeatt.
Food distribution is usually the fourth Thursday of the month, but it can vary depending on holidays or special events, according to Pyeatt. The distribution dates for 2022 are: 27 January, 24 February, 24 March, 28 April, 26 May, 23 June, 28 July, 25 August, 29 September, 27 October, 17 November and 15 December.
Food collection and distribution is voluntary based as the church does not officially fund the program.
“We have a number of volunteers moving up and taking responsibility for things,” said Pyeatt.
People buy and collect carloads of dry goods and canned goods to donate. The pantry also collects some cold items like milk, cheese, eggs, frozen meat and products when in season. Pyeatt said the pantry is funded by individuals, other churches and organizations that want to help.
The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank is the primary source of food, Pyeatt said. The types of food offered vary throughout the year, but St. Luke’s complements what they can afford to buy at a low price. If products can not be given away, or if the pantry has leftovers that no one can take, the food goes to a local farmer to feed pigs.
Pyeatt said the pantry has been blessed with an ever-growing list of volunteers with the support of Penn State Altoona student groups and other churches.
Volunteers are needed
“We are always looking for volunteers,” said Pyeatt, adding that interested people can call the church or show up at food distribution. Some who receive food from the pantry also donate their time through volunteer work at the distribution. “They need food aid, but they also want to help,” said Pyeatt.
The small but powerful congregation works to give as much as they can. Pyeatt said they have dedicated much of the building to the project, adding refrigerators, freezers and shelves at low cost. Donations fill the shelves every month before the day of distribution, he said, noting the generosity of the community.
When the day of distribution arrives, volunteer boxes of family size prepare for one, two and four, with the option of combining the boxes to meet any need. Each box is a unique variety, Pyeatt said. “If we have a lot of food, we spend a lot of food,” he said.
“Every month after we complete our distribution, I look at the shelves and say, ‘Oh boy, it’s empty.’ said Pyeatt.
The pantry serves 60-70 families a month, which Pyeatt said has an average of about 120 people. “It varies quite a bit, month to month depending on the weather and the economy,” he said.
Pyeatt said he has been told that as many as 40% of Blair County experience food insecurity. Feeding America estimated in 2017 that 18.4% of children in the county are food insecure.
To gain access to the food distribution, families must bring photo ID and proof of residence for everyone over the age of 18 and birth certificates for children. Pyeatt said that once they are in the system, they will not need to bring the documents back until July 28th.
The information is used to keep records so the pantry can comply with guidelines set by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and the state and federal government. In the future, Pyeatt wants to expand the distribution to twice a month, but said the pantry should build more volunteers. Until then, St. Luke’s Food Pantry be out the last Thursday of the month, except around holidays, from 2pm to 5.30pm
“It is and will continue to be a great blessing for us who do it. We always say that the people who come and get food from us give. We give them a blessing and they give us a blessing. It is wonderful,” he said.
How to get in touch with local programs
Hollidaysburg Soup Program awards are from kl. 11:00 to 13:00 at:
– St. John’s Reformed Church, Maple Ave 906. – Jan. 15th.
– Hollidaysburg Church of the Brethren, Penn and Hawthorne streets – 22nd and 29th January.
– St. Mary Catholic Church, Mulberry and Clark Streets – February 5th and 12th.
– St. Michael Catholic Church, Montgomery and Spruce streets – February 19, 26 and 5.
In Altoona, St. Luke’s Food Pantry generally runs on the last Thursday of each month. The event is drive-thru, but those on foot can also attend if they wear masks. More information is available on the church’s website or Facebook page, or call St. Luke’s at 814-942-1372 .; leave a message and calls will be returned.
For more information or to see which church offers soup on Saturday, see the spiritual notes in the Religion section. Other programs are also listed in the spiritual notes weekly.
If an individual or family needs immediate help, call PA 211 or text 989-211 with your zip code to send a message to a live resource specialist.