Due to demand, Sojourner Truth Ministries doubled its staff at the beginning of the year.
Now, two women work at the ministry's center, at 501 High St., helping to feed the body and spirit of those who need nourishment.
Dawn White, who has volunteered at Sojourner Truth for about two years, joined the Rev. Velinda Webb-Smith as a staff member there. White's position as a social services assistant is funded through the end of the year by a grant from the Williamsport-Lycoming Community Fund at the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.
The Rev. Velinda Webb-Smith, left, gives a blessing message at the beginning of a recent meal at Sojourner Truth Ministries, 501 High St. Below, two volunteer cooks dish out a lunch of rice, butter beans and ham in the kitchen of the Sojourner Truth Cafe.
"It's not a paying job," White said. "It's a desire to want to serve God and help people find jobs."
Lots of people have been coming through the doors at Sojourner Truth lately for meals, worship services, small group meetings and clothing and food giveaways, all of which are offered there. Meals are served in the Sojourner Truth Cafe every day of the year, including Sundays and holidays.
"We've had an uprise since last July when we started hitting over a hundred a day (at meals)," Webb-Smith said. "It's not so much people starving as it helps their budget. We give out fruits and vegetables on Tuesday, bread and pastries on Wednesday. We go through the pantry once a month and anything we can't use, we give it out to people."
"One thing that comes up all the time is that rents increased so high, people don't have money for rent and utilities," White said.
The cafe served over 2,000 meals in each of the first three months this year.
"We call it a cafe, because we serve the people. They don't get in a line. It's for anybody - we don't care if you got money or not. It's for fellowship," Webb-Smith said.
Naturally, all that cooking and serving isn't done by Webb-Smith and White alone. Volunteers help out and become part of the Sojourner Truth family.
At a recent lunch, the served and servers alike talked about their experience over bowls of rice, butter beans and ham. Hams and turkeys were handed out along with cans of Diet Mountain Dew. Although the kitchen often improvises meals, depending on what's been donated, the Cafe always has an option for people who don't eat meat or have other special dietary concerns.
"They have so many services people don't know about. Without this place I don't think I would've lived. A lot of people would go hungry," said Angel (no last name provided), who has been coming to the ministry for about four years.
"We like helping and serving people. Especially the seniors and the kids. They're really special, our main concern. But everybody's our concern," said
Stacey, one of the cooks that day.
Keeping White on staff for longer than one year will help members of the Sojourner family navigate the byzantine systems of government and nonprofit services.
White, who has worked for disabilities service provider Hope Enterprises and Liberty House, the bridge housing program for women and children, uses her contacts with other social service agencies in the area to get people the help they need.
Counseling and helping people to find employment, housing and necessary services are just some of her work.
"One guy really bounces from place to place, it's hard to keep him anywhere to get him what he needs. We've been working with his sister to get him the Social Security benefits he needs," White said. "We're always working to find people housing. People need to live (in Lycoming County) for three or six months to stay at the shelters, and people with Section 8 approval who haven't found a place there."
Each case has its own challenges. White offers an example of one recent day of work.
"I spent a whole day trying to place this one girl (with a place to stay), calling different counties everywhere. She'd burned all her bridges, with lots of noncompliance of rules of the household and such. We've built an accountability team here that helps her keep doctor appointments and adhering to the rules of the household we found her."
Another recent project for White has been explaining changes to the state's medical assistance program. Susquehanna Health has stopped accepting coverage from one of the state's Medicaid providers, and White helped "about 25 people" understand the changes to their insurance.
"We never close," she said. "I'm always available
More information on Sojourner Truth Ministries is available at stmwilliamsport.org.