Even though it is closed to in-person worship, Epworth United Methodist Church was bustling last week.
Downstairs, volunteers were organizing an abundance of donations at the Bread of Life Food Pantry, thanks largely to the local Boy Scout troops and their annual Scouting for Food collection. The church stage was packed with gently used coats and winter gear for Mary’s Closet. And upstairs, Barbara Beitz was taking inventory of toy donations for the Angel Tree.
Board games, craft sets and baby dolls filled the room. One table was piled with cuddly plush animals, another with brightly colored cars and trucks. The gifts, for newborn through 12-year-olds, will be given to Bread of Life families at the last pantry day of the year.
It was clear that even though the Angel Tree changed format this year due to COVID-19, the community still came through.
Of course, Beitz never questioned whether it would be a success.
“God always provides,” she said.
In the past, a tree decorated with angel tags detailed gifts needed for local children. Parishioners would take the tags and purchase the items, and on the last Bread of Life Food Pantry day of December, the gifts were given to regular pantry families with children.
Since Epworth UMC is still closed due to COVID, volunteers knew they needed to change the format for 2020.
“We all got together because we said we need to think outside the box this year,” Beitz noted.
Using an online Amazon wish list, volunteers asked those supporting the toy drive to either purchase from the list or make a monetary donation. Amazon items were delivered directly to Pastor Charlie Soper, who brought them to the church.
“We’re in the midst of this pandemic. Easily, people could withdraw, but what we’ve seen is an outpouring,” Soper said. “That’s a blessing in all of this. The generosity of people thinking above themselves this year.”
Beitz mentioned an Epworth family that can’t be together for the holidays due to the pandemic, and instead of sending gifts to one another, they chose to make a generous donation to the Angel Tree instead.
Soper explained the Angel Tree and Bread of Life Food Pantry are not just Epworth efforts. They are supported by all houses of worship in the Triboro Clergy Association, which spans Palmyra, Cinnaminson and Riverton. Residents from these towns use the food pantry and will be recipients of this year’s Angel Tree gifts.
“I feel so blessed to be part of this church. It’s wonderful in every way,” said Claudia Naus, who was working on food organization last week. “There are so many people involved, all of them coming together to serve the greater community.”