St. John Lutheran recognized for helping hungry, homeless

PHOTO PROVIDED Bishop Barbara Collins presents a recognition for St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jersey Shore. Accepting it is the church pastor, Rev. Kerry Aucker.

JERSEY SHORE — St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, 229 S. Broad St., has been recognized for its work for the hungry and homeless.

The local church was one of six congregations across Pennsylvania to receive recognition from Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania.

The church hosts The New Love Center Food Pantry.

Although the New Love Center is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with its own board of directors and oversees a food pantry and cafe, the food pantry is in the basement of St. John Lutheran.

The pantry is operated by nearly 170 volunteers from the community and serves nearly 450 families a month in western Lycoming County and eastern Clinton County. It also serves 175 school students with backpacks of food for the weekends.

St. John Lutheran became the pantry’s host in the fall of 2014, after the previous organization closed. Since then, the church has been actively engaged in feeding the hungry in the area, according to the church pastor, the Rev. Kerry Aucker.

He said unemployment, under-employment, health issues, and a lack of work skills are very real here for young people. On the other side of the curve, the number of seniors seeking food assistance continues to grow.

The New Love Center also provides senior food boxes, and that number has grown to 100 boxes per month.

Statewide, one in six children is “food insecure,” meaning the child doesn’t always have access to enough food to stay healthy. In Lycoming County that number is one in five, and in Clinton County, it’s one in four, according to Aucker.

The backpack program in Jersey Shore School District started in January 2017 and since then, it has “exploded,” the pastor said. It started off with 32 children and is now delivering 175 backpacks to local schools every Friday.

In addition, the program stocks tubs in every school, including the high school, with granola bars and other snacks, providing something for students to eat who may come to school hungry or know they are going home to a place where they will have nothing to eat.

“As a pastor, I have the privilege to hear the stories of people who worked hard all their lives but never made big money and never had pensions,” Rev. Aucker told the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania. “These are ‘salt of the earth people’ who live from Social Security check to Social Security check. They are very appreciative of the box of food, milk, eggs, produce and vegetables we can obtain from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and other sources each month.

“In addition, I have written and received grants for the homeless in our area, people who live in their cars, at the local campground, in the forest above town, and under our bridges, who lost their homes due to unemployment, drugs, medical issues, etc. I have climbed under the bridges to reach out to these people and delivered our ‘grace bags’ assembled by the youth of St. John Lutheran for ‘the least of these.'”

Rev. Aucker also said he has advocated for the poor and hungry and for hunger relief efforts in Pennsylvania, and related a time when a trailer park was sold to the gas industry and members of St. John Lutheran rallied together to help the residents move their belongings to new places to live.

“While advocacy may involve writing letters and making phone calls, sometimes it also means getting physically involved and reaching out to those in need by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and sharing hope with those in crisis,” he said. “The members of St. John Lutheran have been wonderful in their efforts, and I am proud to serve as their pastor.”