A Collective Embrace Around the Shoulders of Camden County

May 7, 2021 | | GNJ News

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”– Deuteronomy 15:11

On a cold day in January Dawn Weikel stood on a city sidewalk outside the Neighborhood Center next to her daughter, Lori, wearing a homemade mask and a heavy jacket from the Cooper EMS she had borrowed from her grandson, Christopher to keep warm as she handed out clothes, blankets, sandwiches and the cookies she had baked the day before to the people of Camden. Dawn, who still leads the UMW at her church, Newfield UMC at 83, has been embracing mission and helping people for more than six decades.

“I feel blessed to have such an amazing mom, who has always inspired me to do good in the world,” said Lori Weikel Coblentz in a recent interview. “Our world is such a mess, that we all need to do something good. I try to share something inspirational each day on Facebook (even if it is a hug). I am so proud of my son and his dedication to care for people. I think that God’s purpose for me is to help others!”

For the past several months, Dawn, Lori and Christopher of Newfield UMC, with the support and guidance of the pastor at Plainville UMC, Rev. George Lagos, and Malaga UMC have been working with congregants, Cooper EMS and the Camden Fire Department to take care of the homeless in Camden. They collect clothes, blankets, toiletries, socks, fruit, peanut butter and jelly and make sandwiches the night before in preparation for a day spent in a city burdened by yet another layer of hardship to distribute the material while they talk and pray with the people of Camden.

Lori recalled how difficult it was for her son, Christopher when the pandemic hit.

“He had to move out of his house for three months to avoid exposure to his family. He and the other guys were sharing respirators. Not to mention, they had targets on their backs.”

So that his children could see their dad, Dawn, Lori and others started cooking for about 25 men at the Cooper EMS. This led to drives for food and essential items as well as donations of PPE. After Christopher responded to a call where a man was living with his children in one room, they decided to adopt the family for Christmas.

The ministry seemed to grow as the need seemed to grow in size and pathways.

“My mom started making face masks for nursing homes and hospitals, and she crocheted hats for chemo patients, newborns and the homeless,” said Lori, who added that two years ago her mom was fighting for her life with breast cancer.

Today, Dawn, a breast cancer survivor, along with her family and the dedicated volunteers at Newfield UMC continue to work with Plainville UMC and Malaga UMC through the Malaga Food Pantry to collect blankets and clothes and make sandwiches. They’ve added sanitary needs and makeup to their list of things to collect. Together, they go to Camden for distribution and fellowship.

“Pastor George has been amazing. He’s a blessing,” said Lori who added that because Plainville UMC does not have their own UMW group, they are helping Newfield UMC grow their group.

In late April, the mission grew when Cooper Hospital offered the use of its 101 Haddon Avenue building for their distribution to the homeless. Also helping to bolster the mission were the Street Docs of Cooper who offered to do wellness checks for the homeless and Camden’s Metro Police.

Lori said she is grateful to have the opportunity to help those who need support, including her mom.

“I learned from my mother’s example. From the time I was a little girl, my mom was with UMW,” said Lori. “My parents did so much, so I learned that my purpose was to do good. Now I’m so proud of my son.”

The legacy is clearly intact. As Dawn makes prayer quilts, supports the Emmanuel Cancer Center and raises money for other cancer survivors, Lori is continuing to give back to those her son serves in the community as an EMS worker.

The next distribution will be May 22 at 101 Haddon Avenue in Camden beginning at noon. To donate, the Malaga Food Pantry is located at 91 Old Delsea Drive in Malaga, NJ.