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Plenty to be thankful for

Twice each month, on the second and third Thursdays, nearly 250 households totaling 875 individuals receive groceries from Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative Food Pantry.

St. John the Baptist Church, which is part of the Allentown Diocese, provides the building. The pantry lives in the former Christ the King School, 3024 S. Ruch St., Stiles.

Shari Noctor, WCHI founder and president, saw a need in the community when a 2015 survey of school-age children revealed many were not having regular meals or eating healthy foods. Noctor initiated a plan to work with Second Harvest Food Bank, find a building and create WCHI, which is now a nonprofit 501(c)3.

Walking down the aisles at WCHI reminds one of being in a grocery store. Each participant gets a cart, and a volunteer helps with the food choices. Each section is labeled, and there are signs explaining how many from each section a recipient may take. The amount of food is based on the household size.

This food pantry is unique as it allows participants to choose their own food, rather than having pre-bagged food.

“Each household can choose shelf staples, frozen foods and fresh produce,” said Patricia Karo, WCHI secretary.

All participants are preregistered and have appointed times to get their food on either the second or third Thursday of each month. Karo said there is a morning pickup time and an evening pickup time.

“This morning, we had 65 households pick up food; this evening, we are expecting 50,” she said of a recent distribution. “Four households are scheduled every 10 minutes, and the participants must live in either Whitehall or Coplay.”

The majority of pantry staples, such as canned foods, rice, jar sauces and pasta, are supplied by Second Harvest Food Bank, which is part of a national initiative to keep America fed. The organization designated this food pantry as a Healthy Pantry, meaning it provides food as well as education to support healthy living. Karo pointed out WCHI is one of 200 agencies working with Second Harvest.

Not all items are supplied by Second Harvest. Items such as diapers, hygiene products and specific food items are donated or purchased with monetary donations made by people in the community.

WCHI has a place to drop off donations - RE/MAX Unlimited Real Estate, 1080 Schadt Ave., Whitehall.

WCHI received a Community Development Block Grant to purchase toiletries and was a recipient of the American Rescue Plan during COVID-19 that provided the money necessary to get better lighting, refrigeration and freezer units and a box truck to transport food from Second Harvest to WCHI.

Karo noted government money and our taxes make programs like this work.

WCHI also provides a senior food box program, coordinated by Gail Kramlich. Seniors who qualify for a food box will have it delivered to their home by Door Dash - another benefit from the American Rescue Plan.

Bill Meltzer, WCHI Food Pantry manager, said keeping the pantry stocked, getting the foods and shopping for supplemental products keep the volunteers busy more than the two days a month it is open to the public. There are 65 active volunteers who have state clearances, finger printing and criminal background checks, all of which needed to be completed before they could volunteer.

Community members interested in donating their time as volunteers, donating money or are in need of food can email whitehallcoplayhunger@gmail.com or call 484-225-0358.

PRESS PHOTOS BY JENN RAGO Households that receive food from WCHI are given a fresh produce box based on the growing season.
Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative volunteers Bill Meltzer and Bonnie Kuhns help participants at the food pantry, located at St. John the Baptist Church, 3024 S. Ruch St., Stiles, during a recent distribution. If you are interested in volunteering, call 484-225-0358.
Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative Secretary Patricia Karo helps register new food pantry recipients. Food distributions, based on household size and income, are held the second and third Thursdays of each month at St. John the Baptist Church, 3024 S. Ruch St., Stiles. An appointment time is needed.
PRESS PHOTOS BY JENN RAGO Volunteer Monica Gonzalez has been helping at the food pantry for eight months. She is bilingual and helps aid in communication.