Community Voices Spotlight: New Bethany Ministries

New Bethany Ministries is the organization in the Lehigh Valley that “keeps the lights on” for those who need it most.  Their mission is to “provide opportunities for a secure future for the homeless, hungry, poor and mentally ill.”  Headquartered at the corner of Wyandotte and 4th Street in South Bethlehem, the group annually serves over 9,000 people, including children, adults and seniors.

New Bethany Ministries began as a soup kitchen, but has grown to provide much more than just a meal.  In the 1980s, churches under the umbrella of the episcopal diocese united to provide services for community members in need and hoped for the movement to grow to a scale larger than soups and salads. Expanding beyond the soup kitchen, the organization began to offer some on-site housing to meet the needs of community members.  Transitional housing continues to be a priority for the Ministries. Currently, three different housing options are available for those referred through Northampton or Lehigh County; New Bethany Ministries offers support for those living in such housing as they look for a more permanent residence.  

The organization provides base level needs, as ranked by the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  In some cases, a shower, warm meal and clean clothes are provided.  In the words of Sandra Bieber, the director of development and communications, “sometimes all someone needs is a warm meal and a shower to know that they’re human again.  For those individuals who need more than a meal and a shower, [New Bethany Ministries] offers extensive case management to holistically guide them on the pathway towards independence.”  In these cases, the organization provides case workers, counseling services and assistance in finding employment. Community members can even use New Bethany Ministries address services when necessary; however, more than just resources, the organization is aspiring for holistic change within the community with the end goal of ending homelessness.  Executive director Marc Rittle has identified community partnerships as essential to the success of this mission. These partnerships are currently leveraged in programs such as The Diane Elliott Center and New Bethany Ministries’ digital choice food pantry.

Open as of May 2018, The Diane Elliott Center is a space within the New Bethany Ministries campus that brings community partners to the center.  The space was once a food pantry, but has been remodeled as a community space where those with limited access to resources can consistently find them.  Periodically, community partners stop in for various services, including blood pressure checks and art therapy, and the Center is always available with internet access for job searches.  This center has changed the way that people access healthcare and employment opportunities, in many cases making these services an option for the first time. The goal of the organization is to provide individuals within the community with anything they need, not only to get through the day, but also any resources for individuals to turn their hopes, such as finding a house or a job, into a reality. 

While they offer many services for community members, New Bethany Ministries continues to address food insecurity in the community with their food pantry, which is changing the game of non-profit food banks.  They provide the only digital choice food pantry in the Lehigh Valley and prioritize nutrition, where clients use a digital software to select foods based on dietary needs. Not only is this system more personalized, the system also produces less waste than traditional bagged programs.  Rather than distributing primarily canned goods that are high in sodium, as is characteristic of many other non-profits, New Bethany Ministries provides healthier options through partnerships with farmers and grocery stores. Their database system provides access to fresher foods, vegetables and poultry.  This is just one of the many ways that New Bethany Ministries is inspiring change within the community.  

The impact New Bethany Ministries makes on our communities is immense.  The organization provided 37,000 meals to individuals in the Bethlehem community in 2018, alone.  In that same year, they provided 3200 showers, 183 laundry machine vouchers and 263 clothing vouchers.  In the upcoming holiday seasons, they will provide the turkey at more than 570 Thanksgiving dinners and distribute more than 700 Christmas presents to children.  The group is incredibly dedicated to providing fellowship, hope, friendship, and resources to as many individuals in the community as possible.

The people at New Bethany Ministries are dedicated to serving all individuals in the community, and to honoring the dollar of their donors.  They offer an annual Souper Day, where Lehigh Valley community members are provided a meal of soup, salad, and bread. This fundraiser, held at the Blue Event Center, is the largest annual fundraiser for the organization and brought in $147,000 in 2019.  Through the generosity of the Blue Event Center, all of the proceeds from this night go toward New Bethany Ministries programs; however, the funds raised are not the only benefit of this event.  Participants also experience what a meal at New Bethany Ministries feels like. They experience the sense of friendship New Bethany Ministries provides, but also develop a level of understanding for what it feels like to rely on these meals. New Bethany Ministries serves to offer assistance to the community, but also to call residents in Bethlehem to acknowledge and to respond to the struggles of other members of the community.

Next up for New Bethany Ministries is Luminaria Night on Saturday, December 14.  Luminaria night will see the entire Lehigh Valley lit by white luminaria bags. These candles lining the streets offer a symbol of Lehigh Valley’s unity and dedication to caring for those less fortunate.  The first Luminaria Night was in 1998 as the South Bethlehem community came together to help one family in need and it has grown to symbolically recognize all those within the Lehigh Valley. This year, the 22nd year of this event, funds are expected to surpass $1 million in total from that very first night.  Luminaria kits cost $10 and more information on the event can be found on the New Bethany Ministries website

New Bethany Ministries is truly a collection of people who are passionate about helping their community in many ways.  Through the hearts of the people working there and the traditions set throughout their 34 years of operation, the organization unites the community to create a change in the city that cares for the needs of all community members.  They are the light guiding us toward a more equitable community.

*Feature photo credit: Ashleigh Crawford*

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