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    When Jesus was here on earth, a part of His ministry was feeding people. Now He has left it to us to continue to serve people.

     Bethlehem started a Food Bank, under the direction of Pastor Dave Schlie and Pastor Jeff Olsen, in the early 80’s. They and other church leaders recognized a need to serve food to not only our members, but also to people living in the Bethlehem community.

     The original site of the Food Bank was in an unused classroom in the basement of the school. But as food had to be carried up the stairs, volunteers suggested a room on the first floor. The Food Bank grew from there. We became linked with Associated Church’s food system, and also Community Harvest Food system. In fact, Bethlehem became one of the largest Food Banks in the Ft Wayne area. This is thanks to the many volunteers who have served in the Food Bank over the years.

     Those who served over 20 years; Pat Horman, and Bill and Betterae Ihssen (in many different capacities), and Bob and Marcy Soest. Other volunteers include; Pat Abbott, Willie Mae Belcher, Virginia Bryant, Beatrice Carlisle, Margaret Cleveland, Dana Crane, Phyllis Doty, Nancy Ferguson, Vicky Geisler, Wilma Janeway, Earl Kruger, Elvis Netterville, Tom Oberholtzer, Brian Rasmussen, Carl Thies, Nancy Wallace, David Volmerding, and Art and Ellen Zschieger. Some of these volunteers have gone on to heaven and others have retired. We thank all of them for their service and the legacy they have left for us.

     The Food Bank distributes more than 6,000 meals in a month, serving more than 10,000 people in any given year. The Food Bank is open 5 days a week from 10 to 11:30, and requires many volunteers to pick up food, restock the shelves, keep records and receipts, etc. At present there are more than 25 volunteers, plus the coordinator, Charlotte Ratliff, who keeps all of the records and makes sure there is a variety of food available for the families who come to be served.

Those volunteers are:

Deb Caldwell              Bill Ihssen                   Jessica Norris           Dena Schult                    Diana Gotsch        

Deb Christensen          Doris Holmes              Barb Netterville        Linda Stafford              Deanna Nelson  

Carla Kay                    Nancy Kruger             Phyllis Reinking       Cindy Thies                   Doris Scott   

Ella Martin                  Jewell Robinson         Shirley Thomas         Laverne Eickhoff      

The following sub when needed:

Aaron Brown              Ruby Bonner            Sharon Dietrich        Kim Rasmussen

Beau Bishop               Dain Christensen      Ann Minor                Blake Sebring

    The Food Bank always has a need for ‘staple’ food items, such as: pork and beans, jelly, broth, canned applesauce, diced tomatoes, tuna and meat pasta sauce.

    Please join us Saturday March 23 and Sunday March 24 as we honor all of our Food Bank volunteers, and thank them for their service. Please also bring one of the above listed items. We will have a special prayer for the volunteers and also for the food items you bring.

    The Food Bank motto is from Matt 25:35 ‘when I was hungry, you gave me something to eat’

Food Bank Ministry

In the early 1980's the United States was experiencing a severe recession.  Southeast Fort Wayne was one of the harder hit areas with the downsizing and closing of many large companies.  Bethlehem Lutheran Church is located in the heart of that area and was the spiritual home to many of the impacted people.

It was at this time that Bethlehem's Food Bank was formed.  Its purpose was to assist any of our members with food and other necessities.  Bethlehem partnered with Grace Lutheran Church, which stored clothing, furniture, appliances and goods in a garage and distributed them as the need arose.  Members donated the majority of the food.  The pastors or other individuals helped distribute the food.  There were no set hours for distriubtion.  The Social Ministry Board also had a small fund, which was used to help with other emergency needs.

The Food bank was originally located in the basement of the school.  As the need for the Food Bank grew, it developed regular hours, increased its services to nonmembers and provided a greater variety of food.  It became part of a citywide system formed by Associated Churches of Fort Wayne.  Bob Doest became our link with Associated Churches.  He would secure food from the warehouse and deliver it to Bethlehem.  Associated Churches continues to provide between 2000 and 2500 pounds of food monthly.  They now deliver the food to us.  

At the same time, a method for recording clients and their visits was established.  Territories were established throughout the city.  Bethlehem still serves the area between Oxford Street on the North, Anthony Blvd. on the West, Tillman Road on the South and Meyer Road on the East.  Approximately 16 square miles.

It was decided to move the Food Bank from the basement to the first floor, closer to the clients and workers.  Shelves were built to store dry food and canned goods.  We were blessed with donations of freezers and refrigerators to enable us to provide produce, frozen meat, bread, eggs, butter, cheese and many other items.  A waiting area was made available for the clients outside the church's office entrance.  The food and volunteers were then only a few feet from the clients.  It was much easier and efficient.We became a five day operation with regular hours.  We were blessed with more volunteers.  Our volunteers currently donate between 170-200 hours monthly to serve this ministry.In July of 2000 Associated Churches partnered with Community Harvest and began to buy food from them.

We get roughly 2000 pounds of food from Community Harvest at month.  We  have volunteers who go weekly to Community Harvest and Kroger for baked goods.  Our congregation continues to donate food, money and spiritual support.  

We currently serve between 350-500 people a month, which is equivalent to 5000-7500 meals monthly.  

As we begin the Lenten season, thoughts of giving and sacrifice enter our hearts.  Please help us feed the hungry by bringing your gifts of non-perishable food items to church during March 16 to April 18.  Your contributions to our food pantry will feed local neighbors in need.