By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
MAZEPPA — A Mazeppa church built in 1859 recently found new life as a food and clothing distribution center for Union County’s needy. But now, open just two weeks, Mazeppa’s Manna has become a job bank, a household necessities repository, essentially a clearing house for anyone in need.
“We were thinking how we could help” the many people and families in Union County still struggling in this economy, said the Rev. Ricky Phillips, pastor of Mazeppa Union Church in Lewisburg and St. John’s Church of Dry Valley, near Winfield.
Wanting a warm, welcoming place, Mazeppa Union bought the former Mazeppa United Methodist Church at Col. John Kelly and Johnson Mill roads.
The need for the center became clear on its opening day Aug. 13, when about 50 families stood in line for items, Phillips said. Many were young families, and of those present, more than 70 were children, he said.
“Some of my former students were in line,” said Betsy Fickes, of Mifflinburg, a volunteer who taught in the Mifflinburg Area School District for 35 years. That made her feel glad to help, she said.
“We made clear everyone was welcome, we’re not judging anybody here,” she said.
Fickes was among about a dozen volunteers at the center Wednesday, its “business day.” For now, Mazeppa’s Manna is open one Wednesday a month from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and donations are accepted on Wednesdays from 9 to noon.
“This place is loaded with workers,” Phillips said, adding Mazeppa’s Manna is not taking any state or governmental grants or aid.
“We want to do it ourselves,” he said. “We’re not concerned with keeping up in donations, and this forces church members, everyone really, to become disciples, to reach out to those people who need it.”
Donations have been brisk and have come from local businesses such as Weis Markets and others, Phillips said. They cover everything from diapers to laundry detergent to food and gently used clothes.
Mazeppa’s Manna also is the new permanent home of Arthur’s Pet Pantry, a charity that helps people in need feed — and keep — their pets.
At first, center patrons were limited to 10 items of food or sundries, “but we’ve received so much, it looks like we’re upping it to more,” Phillips said.
“Oh my word, probably a lot more!” said Carolyn Neitz, who lives in Kelly Township and was a parishioner of the church. She and Melody Erb, of Lewisburg, were sorting through and stocking items in the “store,” featuring canned goods, pet food, shampoo, even diapers in assorted sizes.
Visitors to Mazeppa’s Manna fill out an “interest form” that helps volunteers direct people to the services they need. These include unemployed and underemployed people in search of jobs, people with transportation issues, those wanting help with parenting skills or even looking to obtain a GED.
“We get a lot of job calls,” Phillips said, and already nearly 30 job seekers have turned to the center for help. Beth Hackenberg, who is retired from Pennsylvania CareerLink, is using her skills and contacts to get people and jobs connected, he said.
“This place has so much history,” Phillips said of the old church, which eventually will have prayer services, the first scheduled for Sept. 8. “It’s been dedicated to people,” and through Mazeppa’s Manna, “it still is.”
For information, visit the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Mazeppa1.