Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering provides beds and food for the homeless. The organization is one of several offering charity programs during the holidays. (Lauryn Ragone/B&W Staff).

The gift that keeps giving: organizations run charitable efforts for holiday season

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Trinity Episcopal Church’s soup kitchen, Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering and Lehigh Community Service Office’s Hope Chest are just a few of the many organizations across Bethlehem made up primarily of volunteers who give back to the less fortunate in the city — such as the homeless and families of low income — especially during the holiday season. 

“I just enjoy talking with these folks,” said Bob Rapp Jr., executive director of Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering. “We all have struggles in life. I’ve been blessed to have folks within my life to help with my struggles. It is always nice to give back.”

Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering, located on 75 E. Market St., has become an ongoing community effort to provide a shelter for the homeless population across the winter months. Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering opens on Dec. 1 every year and closes at the end of March, Rapp said. 

People are offered dinner and bunk beds to sleep in, but aside from that, Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering has the goal of having its own facility one day, as it expands its services. 

“One of the things that we have done over the years is to bring support organizations into our house to help folks work through the issues that led them to homelessness,” said Rapp, who started as a volunteer at Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering years ago. “Sometimes it can be something very simple as losing a job. It is not hard to find yourself on the streets if you have no support system.”

With a similar mission, Reverent Elizabeth Miller of Trinity Church emphasizes the soup kitchen’s aim to continue to share the gift of helping.

The soup kitchen has been running for 40 years and continues to provide lunch for the homeless, and it tries to provide gifts during the holidays, as well. Miller said the kitchen is always accepting volunteers, and it encourages donations. 

Miller said volunteers are there all year and are like family.

“I usually ask people if they feel like they are blessed in their life, and normally people that are going to school are pretty blessed in their life,” Miller said. “When you go out to get yourself a bottle of shampoo, if you can afford it, pick up two. Drop one off here. Same thing with like thermal gloves… warm boots”

Lehigh also has a program installed that has been running for many years, aimed at giving back to the kids from Bethlehem schools, which include Fountain Hill Elementary and Broughal Middle School.

The Community Service Office’s Hope Chest gives holiday gifts to the kids that are a part of the homework clubs every year. 

“It feels like we are in Santa’s workshop,” said Maggie Bristol, ’20, a student coordinator for the Community Service Office. “They give so much to our tutors, and our tutors get so much personally out of our tutoring program. I think it is important to let them have a little bit of that. Our tutors love shopping for their kids.”

Bristol, who has been with Community Service Office for four years now, said she understands that most of these students from the homework clubs come from low-income families who may not be able to afford gifts. 

She said the tutors have an importance in these students’ lives. 

“I think this program is really important because our tutors work with these kids all year long. They work with them, some of them for four years of their college experience,” Bristol said. “For a lot of the kids, their tutors or people in our office are like a consistent person in their lives, which I think is really cool. We get to keep track of how they are doing.”

In addition to giving gifts to the kids, the hope chest now aims to provide its families with grocery gift cards, Bristol said. The initiative attempts to aid the problem of food insecurity for low-income families in South Bethlehem. 

To get involved, Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering is having a food and clothes drive alongside Stand Up Bethlehem on Saturday, Dec. 14.

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