MCC photo/Nereida Babilonia

Merilda Morgan hands a bag of groceries to Dione Pickett, both of Philadelphia, Pa. Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA)'s Back to School Festival in September drew around 1,000 people where 200 grocery bags were distributed.

What started as an idea at an East Coast Material Resources Center gathering in the early 2000’s has turned into a process where over 3,000 grocery bags and boxes are distributed yearly to churches in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The program has one sole purpose—to help Anabaptist congregations respond to needs in their communities. The groceries are meant to supplement what people already have.

Each grocery bundle, packed in either a bag or a box, contains:

  • vegetable oil (32 oz.)
  • pasta (2 lbs.)
  • raisins (1 lb.)
  • white rice (32 oz.)
  • 2 cans meat (chicken or tuna) (12 oz.)
  • 1 can tomato sauce (15 oz.)
  • 2 cans fruit (14-20 oz.)
  • 2 cans vegetables (14-16 oz.)
  • 2 cans beans (15.5 oz.)
  • 1 box of cereal (14-18 oz.)
  • peanut butter (28 oz.)

Landis Supermarket in Harleysville, Pa., highlights MCC East Coast's grocery distribution program in a cart near the registers. Shoppers can buy a bag for $25 at the store and take it to the MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville. The center also collects money for groceries and purchases them through Landis Supermarkets.MCC photo/Diana Williams

MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville in Souderton, Pa., has an agreement with a local grocery store, Landis Supermarkets, where people can purchase pre-packed bags for $25. Other bags and boxes are donated through local conferences including Allegheny Brethren in Christ, Atlantic Coast Mennonite, Franconia Mennonite, Franklin Mennonite, Groffdale Mennonite and Old Order Amish.

The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) of Mennonite Church USA has been collecting groceries since the 1980’s and now partners with MCC’s grocery distribution. Through congregational phone calls and church bulletins, Larry Shirk, a member of ACC’s Peace and Justice Committee, helps to spread the word. “It is a good way for ACC churches to be missional.”

“The largest collection by one group is from the Groffdale Mennonite Conference at Shady Maple Farm Market in East Earl, Pa. Last year they donated 1,000 boxes to the Spanish Mennonite Council (CIMH),” noted James Wheeler, Material Resources Center (MRC) Manager in Ephrata. Individuals connected in other ways to MCC donate groceries as well.

The MRC in Ephrata, MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville and the Cumberland Valley Relief Center in Chambersburg, Pa., collect the groceries before distribution.

“MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville is happy to coordinate efforts in our area to help provide for food needs. Food is essential for life and well-being and we are happy to play a role in the MCC grocery bag project,” said Sharon Swartzentruber, Coordinator.

Families receiving the groceries include older adults, single parent families and recent immigrants. Most of the receiving churches are MCC constituent churches or have connections with MCC through East Coast regional programs.

In March, Rehoboth Spanish Group joined with other churches in the Reading area to distribute 110 boxes of food to celebrate Global Youth Day. Names and contact information collected for each family receiving groceries was then used to follow-up and invite them to church and community meals.Photo courtesy of Rabiel Torres

“It’s amazing how many hungry people there are,” said Ted Hughes a volunteer from Souderton, Pa., who helps regularly deliver bundles of food. In Harleysville, the Material Resource Center has set the goal of delivering 50-100 bags of groceries each month to churches in the Kingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia.

Anita Lyndaker-Studer, Executive Director of Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) a ministry of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, helps coordinate their Back to School Event each fall. This September they distributed 200 grocery bags and boxes. “We had the largest attendance we’ve had to date. Every year attendance seems to increase. It is clear the current economic crisis continues to impact families. The Back to School Event is carried out as a way to bless and serve our at-risk community. ”

“It was a daunting experience… about 100 or so people were lined up to begin with, in the doors, out to the street and down to the parking lot. It was an endless line going down to the street,” said Jim Whiteman of Harleysville reflecting on the Back to School Event. Jim has been volunteering with distributions for over six years. “It felt very rewarding and satisfying to help people.”

“We ran out of groceries. We weren’t short several bags; we were short a bunch of bags. The looks on faces was kind of devastating…” said Jim.

MCC photo/Diana Williams

The need continues to grow. As more bags and boxes of groceries are requested this holiday season, help the Material Resources Centers fill the requests. Consider getting your church or conference involved in collecting groceries. Raise funds to buy grocery bags from Landis Supermarkets. Encourage your youth group to pack bags or boxes. Or drop off packed groceries at any of the following locations in Pennsylvania.

MCC East Coast Material Resources Center

MCC East Coast regional office

MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville

Cumberland Valley Relief Center