Dec. 26—Editor's note: The Daily Item will recognize people who have Made a Difference in the Valley in 2021 this week. This is the third part of a series that will continue until New Year's Day.
The new year brings new changes to the Eastern Union County Supplemental Food Program.
Twice-monthly distributions move to the United Pentecostal Church of Lewisburg at 2822 Buffalo Road. And, leadership shifts with Alicia Ditty taking over as director for Cindy Farmer.
Farmer volunteered with the food pantry for 12 years, serving the last five as director. The people she'll miss most, those who've volunteered by her side, nominated Farmer for The Daily Item's annual year-end Made a Difference series.
"This is not a one-person show. I didn't do it alone. All these people," Farmer said of the pantry volunteers, "they all did their part."
Inside the basement of the First Baptist Church on Third Street in Lewisburg, the pantry's home the past 30-plus years, Farmer becomes emotional. Volunteer Jo Orris's presence next to her lends some reassurance.
"I've made friends for life and I'm going to miss seeing them on a regular basis," Farmer said.
The food pantry distributed approximately 50,000 pounds of food to 3,600 clients in 2021, according to Farmer. It operates on donations: funds and food. The pantry purchases food from the Central PA Food Bank and also accepts local donations. Community food drives like at churches and schools are a big help. So are donations from businesses throughout the Lewisburg area including Panera Bread, Weis Markets, Giant Food Stores and Fisher's Meat Market.
Ditty, the incoming director of the Eastern Union County Supplemental Food Program, met Farmer in August. She said she's humbled to take a leadership role with the program.
"I can see her passion for the program and the love she has for her community. It is my hope that I can carry on her legacy and bring honor to the work she's done," Ditty said.
Farmer began volunteering at the food pantry when her daughter needed service hours for confirmation. They helped throughout one summer. Farmer chose to stick around, feeling compelled to lend a hand. She formed relationships with volunteers and became interested in the clients.
As time passed, Farmer assumed greater responsibilities. Five years ago, she became director. It's all volunteer work; no salary. About 10 core volunteers, with added help on distribution days, make the pantry work.
Farmer lived in Lewisburg since age 6. She called her life "very sheltered" and said she wasn't aware of the needs some have in and around her town. That changed at the pantry. Many of the people who turned out at her initial distributions 12 years ago still come today. She's heard of their good times and bad times and when she can, she'll refer people to other social service agencies.
She encourages volunteers considering bringing their children to volunteer, or grandchildren, to do so.
"It was a big eye-opener for me," Farmer said. "It just felt like I was making a difference."
Orris will begin her seventh year volunteering with the food pantry in January. She began after retiring from her career as a pharmacist. Now, she serves as the pantry's secretary/treasurer. Like Farmer, Orris said she didn't have a great sense of the need for food distributions in the Lewisburg area.
Orris came to know Farmer through their years volunteering. She called Farmer a terrific organizer and someone who can easily connect with others.
"I am sure she must have majored in organization," Orris said. (Close! Farmer was a sociology major with a focus on complex organizations.) "She is one of the most organized people I ever met," Orris said.
Teri Mangano volunteered with the pantry for seven years. She met Farmer prior to that as moms tend to do when they have kids the same age.
Like Orris, Mangano said Farmer's organizational skills were welcomed and critical. When the pandemic set in, the pantry shifted from a walk-through distribution to a curbside and delivery service. It wasn't easy but it worked, and Mangano credited Farmer with thinking of the big things and little things to make it work smoothly.
"It's not easy to just switch gears and do that. It was such a good change to keep us all safe," Mangano said.
With the food pantry moving to a new church under new leadership, Orris said the mission remains. There are some advantages: plenty of parking and ground floor access among them.
"The pantry belongs to the community," Orris said. "If we can actually serve more people and do it smoothly, that's a great thing."
"I know that Cindy put her heart and soul into the pantry. She truly cares about people and wanted to make a difference, and she did," Mangano said.
Farmer had been a stay-at-home mom while volunteering with the pantry. She did a lot of work from her house. Now that her children are nearly grown up, she's taken a part-time job. She'll focus on her job, and family, as she moves on from the pantry.
"I just felt like it was time for someone else to take over," Farmer said.
Twice-monthly distributions through the Eastern Union County Supplemental Food Program begin Jan. 7 at the United Pentecostal Church of Lewisburg, 2822 Buffalo Road. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-524-5445.