MIDDLEBURY CENTER — The official start time is 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, but vehicles have already formed three lines in front of Sister Jenny’s Outreach Center to receive food from the supplemental drive-thru food pantry.
As the clock changes, the first few vehicles pull out from under the portico to leave, and exit safely with a deputy sheriff controlling traffic.
It’s going to be a busy day between now and when the pantry closes at 2 p.m. Across the highway, Sheriff Frank Levindoski sorts vehicles to be staged while the fire police manage multiple lines of vehicles in the Dandy Mini Mart.
The outreach center is a hubbub of activity. The Rev. Virginia Boley, better known as Sister Jenny, has been ministering to the people of Tioga County for more than 30 years, and began the supplemental food pantry during the pandemic.
The outreach center is an office with warehouse space. The food pantry items fill the southern end, while the northern portion contains household items, clothing and “anything you need to set up a house,” said Boley. In her late 80s, she moves with slow confidence, her eyes bright and her smile gentle.
“Everyone who works here knows that God exists,” she said while offering a quick tour of the center. “Every time we have a need and we don’t have it here, it arrives within days.”
Volunteers help sort the household and clothing items, spending about three weeks of every month on the work. The fourth week, though, is to prepare for the supplemental food pantry held on the second Saturday of each month.
Anyone living in one of the county’s 21 zip codes can attend to receive food to supplement what they receive from their home food pantry. No proof of income is required, although recipients are asked to register and sign a form with a check mark indicating their income level.
Assisting with the sign up this past Saturday were employees from Citizens & Northern Bank, organized by Brandi Nowakowski. Initially, they began donating as part of the bank’s employee volunteer Giving Back program.
“Karen (Blackwell) and I began coming a couple months ago and have been coming ever since,” said Nowakowski. “We enjoy it.”
The team of volunteers spreads across the three lines of vehicles, asking if they’ve ever attended this food pantry and asking those who have not to fill out a form. Each vehicle can collect for one or two families and the volunteers place a colorful sticky note designating the number beneath the windshield wiper.
The three lines continue around the northern end of the pantry where Boley’s husband combines the three lines into one to enter the covered loading area.
Inside the loading area, state Rep. Clint Owlett is helping load vehicles. He guides each car forward, indicating when it should stop and indicates to volunteers whether it is for one or two families. His wife, Lauren, and son, Chase, are also helping.
Almost before the vehicle stops, the volunteers are lined up behind and beside it, their arms filled with boxes of food and plastic bags of apples and potatoes. This month each family received six boxes containing pork loin, hamburger patties, cheeses, butter, milk, eggs and more. As one volunteer lifts a box from a table, another carries forward a replacement.
“We concentrate on nutrition,” said Boley. “It really is quite a process.”
Farther back, more volunteers continue to unfold and tape boxes while others pack. Among them is Rob Fitzgerald, a Mansfield councilman and executive at First Citizens Community bank.
“I was very pleasantly surprised by how much food they receive,” he said.
Typically, between 300 and 400 families are served each month. As of January, 797 families had registered at the outreach center.
The next supplemental drive-thru food pantry is scheduled for 10 a.m.-2 p.m. March 13. The center also provides food for emergency needs. Anyone needing help should call 570-206-2075.