Just one day before families sat down to give thanks, United Churches of Lycoming County Executive Director Gwen Bernstine shared what she was grateful for this year.
"We're very thankful we're not homeless," Bernstine said.
When volunteers at the United Churches Food Pantry discovered that their current home at The Campbell Street Community Center would be closed Dec. 1, a search began for a new place from which to help the hungry.
Shirley Bittenbender, left and Dale Bittenbender, of Montoursville, sorts donated items for storage at the United Church food pantry at The Center Monday morning.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
The pursuit began last week. The food pantry needs a place large enough to store all of the food it receives from the state and federal government, as well as church donations. Multiple freezers are needed to accommodate meat. The site also needs a place with handicap accessibility and close to a bus stop for those who do not drive.
Perhaps most important, it needed to find a landlord who would accept what it can afford to pay for rent.
"We cannot just go anywhere," coordinator Gail Burkhart said.
After the search was announced, Step Inc. offered a space on its campus, as did Lycoming Housing.
"Churches of Lycoming County are part of God's family," Bernstine said. "We really worked together. ... Along with the churches, the community also has worked to come to our rescue."
Each option had its good and bad aspects, but in the end, one was chosen.
"I think the community will see this is a good choice when they see what it is," Bernstine said. "I look forward to seeing it a year from now as it continues to unfold."
Where United Churches Food Pantry will move still is a mystery that may be announced at the Annual Assembly Nov. 29.
Whatever it is, people are working together "on the fast track to meet the deadlines that have been imposed."
"We chose to go this route as part of a plan to consolidate some services from the churches so that things happen together in a group and this will be a neat thing that will be unfolding for the community," Bernstine said.
She hopes to move in by Dec. 1, which could be tricky, to help those in need.
On top of concerns about where it would go are worries about feeding the hungry for Christmas.
"We try to give folks food the first two weeks in December," Bernstine said.
Most of the people who need help the most also receive a Christmas basket with food in it from organizations such as the Salvation Army and the American Rescue Workers.
The possibilities, therefore, are have to everything set up the same day as leaving, distribute pre-packaged bags of food or not give out anything for December.
When the food pantry moved to The Center in January, Burkhart explained the only way to give out food to those in need was in pre-packaged bags, something she does not like doing.
Unlike other food pantries, the United Churches Food Pantry allows clients, or families, to pick the food they want to fill their bags, rather than giving out standard bags.
By doing so, it eliminates waste caused when people receive something they do not want.
It also allows people with dietary concerns to get the food they need.
Burkhart has noticed an increase in low-sodium and gluten-free products.
When she first started volunteering, she thought people would eat whatever was given to them. However, everyone has different preferences and by letting people decide for themselves, they can get what they want, while still maintaining their dignity.
People are not asked for proof of their finances, but they are told if they are audited, they will have to show they meet the financial guidelines.
There are certain qualifications to receive food from the state or federal government. Those who do not qualify for the food may receive donations provided by different congregations.
A family of three usually receives five bags of food with two meat items to get them through the next 30 days, after which they are eligible to return if they need to.
They are not allowed to go to other food pantries to receive additional food.
Burkhart tells families if they need more food to return to the United Churches Food Pantry.
"'We'll take care of you," she said she tells them, "I don't want to see anybody go without food."
The United Churches Food Pantry began in the 1970s at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, specifically for the church. It expanded to include others and, in the 1980s, was renamed the Center City Cluster United Churches Food Pantry.
Needing more space, it moved from St. Mark's to New Covenant United Church of Christ and occasionally was at Christ Episcopal Church.
After a larger space became necessary again, it moved to Sojourner Truth. As the Center City Cluster lost its oversight, it became United Churches Food Pantry.
Plumbing issues and a need for an even larger space resulted in the move to The Center in January.
According to Bernstine, Burkhart repeatedly has asked, "Is this our forever home?"
Now Bernstine thinks they may have just found it.