“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”—1 Peter 3:8
The spirit of unity is alive in the small town of Blairstown, NJ, where the First UMC Blairstown in partnership with other churches, local schools, Scouts and other organizations are feeding the hungry with conviction, compassion and strict safety measures.
Tapping into the strength and resilience of the community, each church is responsible for their own food pantry each Saturday, which allows each church to have ownership of its food ministry.
First UMC is in partnership with five other food pantries that we coordinate with: the Evangelical Free Church of Blairstown (second Saturday), the First Presbyterian Church in Blairstown (third Saturday), St. Jude’s Catholic Church (fourth Saturday), the Knowlton UMC (last Saturday) and St. John’s UMC in Hope (first three Mondays of each month).
Each pantry is independently operated, housed, and supplies. The food collection shed at the Blairstown municipal hall is the first time they have all worked together to collect and distribute food.
At the small but mighty church of First UMC Blairstown, Rev. David Tillisch said, “We’re the catalyst that keeps the ministry going.” In one weekend in November they served a record 45 families through the food pantry, which was nearly 50% higher than what they normally see this time of year.
In an effort to keep everyone safe, they have modified the way they distribute food. Their pre-COVID free breakfast and pantry shopping model has evolved into an order form that clients are able to fill out, expressing exactly what they need, thereby reducing waste and setting up a new opportunity to engage with them on a personal level when they come to pick up their food.
“We’ve built relationships we never expected,” said Tillisch. “I think they appreciate the personal connection from our volunteers.”
Leading that personal connection is 83-year-old Claire Smith, the pantry coordinator who works three to four times every week with about 10 other volunteers. Grateful for her leadership and dedication, Tillisch said, “She’s a blessing. She keeps the church plugging along.”
The feeding program is a community effort every week, Tillisch emphasized. The local Office of Emergency Management stocks the pantries, and the schools, Scouts, Rotary Club and Lions Club host food drives to bolster supplies.
But the outreach stretches outside the boundaries of the church property. “Our ministry is not only touching the lives of the people who come to our food pantry, but the connections are also supporting those who generously support us.”
He noted a woman from the community with no affiliation to the church who has been generous with the food pantry.
“Last month our pantry volunteers invited our clients to sign a thank you card for her,” Tillisch recalled. “When she received it, she was so overwhelmed by this act of gratitude, that she wanted to save the card and put it in her family‘s yearbook as one of the meaningful things that happened to her this year. She later sent a thank you card to us!”
Tillisch recalled another woman who regularly visits the pantry for supplies.
“She said that this was the only food pantry she comes to in our area, because she feels so warmly greeted and cared about. Our volunteers are truly making a difference in the lives of our neighbors! Truly a great ministry!”
In addition to the food distribution, First UMC recently reopened its Clothing Collection Shed to provide much needed clothing for the people in the community as temperatures drop. They also provide transportation and shopping services, primarily for older adults, and in October participated in a clean-up in the community that raised $500 for ministry.
“This is small town America with a great deal of poverty and affluence,” said Tillisch. “Love your neighbor and unity are our two main themes. What unites us is seeing humanity on both sides of the aisle.”