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New Bethany Ministries

In a time when much of the Lehigh Valley was brought to a standstill, New Bethany Ministries has been busier than ever. The Southside Bethlehem nonprofit is used to difficulty, providing services for people who have nowhere else to turn. But, like everyone during the COVID-19 crisis, it has faced new challenges.

Executive Director Marc Rittle calls New Bethany “a community of care and support.” Homeless and low income clients can be helped by a full range of services, including hot meals, a food pantry, showers, hygiene products, and laundry services, as well as varied housing programs and case management services.

“We need to step up and help people in this time of crisis,” he says. “Many local companies are on 70 percent employment status,” creating an increased demand for help. The agency hired new staff to deal with the increased needs.

Rittle says response among the clients “ranges across a spectrum, with one side being not at all concerned, to the other where people are terrified to leave their room.”

“Homeless and lowincome people usually have a higher risk of disease,” he says. “They may have chronic conditions, they often don’t have a private room with their own bathroom and shower, and they have less opportunity to wash their hands.’ Fortunately, none of New Bethany’s regular clients, to the best of Rittle’s knowledge, have been infected by the coronavirus.

Brandy Garofalo is director of the Mollard Hospitality Center, which houses day programs, including the soup kitchen.

“People may not have a home,” she says, “but here they have a place to eat in comfort and dignity, take a shower, and get clothing.”

The Better Buy Thrift Shop in the nearby Cathedral of the Nativity normally has clothing available, although the shop has been closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

“People’s appearance is a top-notch priority,” Garofalo says. “We help people to look their best, so someone can look and feel close to their old normal. We don’t want to see anyone dirty.

“Little things that we do can make a big change in people’s lives, like getting them on disability,” Garofalo explains.

Case management is available to help with social services, and New Bethany has a Representative Payee program to prevent homelessness among Social Security recipients, assisting them by paying bills and providing budget and savings counseling.

Attendance at the soup kitchen has gone up since the COVID shutdown, now with daily attendance of 80 to 100 people. The kitchen served nearly 6,000 people last year. The food pantry is visited by 10 to 20 people daily, and up to 30 are served every week.

New Bethany’s soup kitchen has continued serving, only the meals are now carry out only, and now clients cannot visit the drop-in center adjacent to the kitchen.

Garofalo said volunteers from about 20 churches used to take turns serving meals, but since the start of the crisis, there is only one church doing it on a regular basis, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church of Bethlehem, with members who cook on Fridays.

Garofalo has been at New Bethany about 20 years, as were many of the volunteers.

“Some of the ladies are the same people who started in their 50s, and now some are approaching 80 years old,” she says. A small group now prepares and serves the meals four days a week.

The food pantry is based in a garage in a building a few doors down from New Bethany’s Fourth Street headquarters. Volunteers assemble packages that can include canned vegetables, soups, pasta and sauce, peanut butter, fruit, cereal, juice, and soap, depending on availability. There might be extras, too, like Little Caesar’s pizza on Fridays.

Some people walk up with carts, while others drive up and wait in line in the narrow one- way alley. The whole process is designed to be quick and easy, with minimal contact. First-time visitors have to register by filling out a short form. Before social distancing restrictions, customers could input their orders on a touch screen in the office, which was useful for those with special dietary needs.

Normally, people might only visit once a month, but Rittle says no one is turned away. The pantry is mostly supplied by Second Harvest Food Bank, with additional contributions from individuals, businesses, and church drives. Rittle says it is fortunate that Second Harvest has not reduced providing staples, at least so far, which is a concern due to national disruptions in food supplies.

Lodging is another New Bethany service. Transitional Housing is an emergency residential program that provides housing, usually for three to six months, up to nine months. The Single Room Occupancy Program provides a single room with shared facilities at three locations, in South Bethlehem, Coplay and Allentown.

Wyandotte Apartments has seven apartments for the formerly homeless. New Bethany has temporarily housed some clients in Southside Bethlehem’s Comfort Suites hotel.

Families are not separated if they need a place to live.

“The goal is to go from homelessness to permanent housing,” Rittle says. “We help with getting jobs, life skills, and, if necessary, mental health referrals.”

Rittle said the pandemic crisis forced New Bethany to make a new 2020 budget. One new initiative is rental assistance.

“We have received many phone calls from people who are newly unemployed and are concerned about losing their home,” he says. “We work with landlords and tenants to work out a repayment plan, and help people with short-term expenses.”

New Bethany is looking for contributions, donations of food and other supplies, and for volunteers. Volunteers must be prescheduled, Information is available on their website: www.newbethanyministries.org .

PRESS PHOTOS BY DANA GRUBBVolunteers Nicole Peluso and Josh Osowiecki, and Director of Operations Veronne Demesyeux prepare lunches in the New Bethany Ministries kitchen.