A volunteer from the Saint Joseph the Worker Food Pantry in Williamsport is ready to distribute bread and fruit to the community on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Photo/Makenzie Conner)

ASHLEY – Volunteers at the Ashley Food Pantry, which is hosted at Saint Leo’s/ Holy Rosary Parish, were expecting a larger than normal turnout for their April food distribution but even they were surprised by the number of new faces that showed up.

“Normally in a month, we’ll get four new clients,” Thomas Hooper, Ashley Food Pantry volunteer, said. “Thursday (April 16), we got 32 new clients. In one month, we got almost as many new clients as we do in a year.” Just like larger community organizations, many parishes across the Diocese of Scranton host food pantries at their facilities. They are also seeing an increased need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was the one parking the cars. The majority of them (clients) were younger people, not retirees, which was not surprising in a sense,” Hooper said. “A lot of younger people are being affected now.” The Ashley Food Pantry opens its doors once a month, the second Thursday of every month, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and again from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. It serves residents in the 18706 zip code, which includes Ashley, Hanover Township, Sugar Notch and Warrior Run. The next food distribution is scheduled for Thursday, May 14, 2020.

“Everybody puts a lot of time and effort into it because they know it’s a good cause,” Hooper added. The Ashley Food Pantry gets a majority of its food from CEO/Weinberg Northeast Regional Food Bank. The rest of the food donations come from individuals and parishioners at Saint Leo’s/Holy Rosary Parish. Volunteers who help distribute the food come from three area churches. While the coronavirus forced changes to normal distribution methods, the process now includes pre-bagging food and enforcing social distancing guidelines. Hooper believes it is worth it to serve the community.

“If you were in that situation of needing food, you’d want someone out there doing it for you. I think that is the motive behind it,” he added. For several decades, volunteers from the Saint Joseph the Worker Parish Food Pantry in Williamsport have also been stepping up to help their community. “We get new people every week,” Margaret Harpster, Food Pantry Coordinator, said. The pantry, which is open every Wednesday from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. has served 150 families in the last four weeks. That is an increase from the normal 100 to 125 families.

“We know we’re serving a need. You know you are helping them. You are forming a relationship with them as well,” Harpster said. In addition to parishioners from Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, the pantry also gets assistance from parishioners at Saint Boniface, Saint Lawrence and Saint Ann parishes. Since the coronavirus crisis started, volunteers say they’ve also seen a big increase in people looking to help.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of donations, people wanting to help which has been amazing,” Harpster said. “We have grocery stores that donate to us every week. The Weis store in Montoursville gives us bakery items and the meat department will give us frozen meat. Aldi’s will also give us a variety of things.”