Dave Wickmann is the head coordinator at Central Moravian Food Pantry. Wickmann has been working to provide food for the Bethlehem community amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Dave Wickmann)

Central Moravian food pantry aids Bethlehem residents

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The shelves were filled with food primed for donations with only one thing missing: Cereal. 

With an array of canned goods and fresh produce from Bethlehem food distributor Second Harvest, cereal seemed to be such a menial product. Yet, for some reason, it was in demand, and Central Moravian Food Pantry did not have it. 

 A “God moment” is what Dave Wickmann called it when a large tractor trailer drove down Bethlehem’s Main Street carrying over 50 boxes of cereal. 

He laughed to himself while recalling the memory over Zoom. 

“You never see tractors in the center of downtown Bethlehem.” he said. “Then here is this guy driving down the road screaming, ‘I heard a food pantry is in need of cereal!’ out his window.”

Wickmann is no stranger to these “God moments.” He coined the term while serving as a pastor for 40 years in the Moravian Church, and has now assimilated it into his work as head coordinator at Central Moravian Food Pantry.

Though he attributes moments like the cereal shortage to God, it is impossible to overlook that many of the pantry’s successes are due to Wickmann’s tireless determination to support those who are food insecure.

In the past six months especially, with COVID-19 causing a dramatic rise in food insecurity, Wickmann created a new COVID safe food distribution system to aid clients, proving that for him, helping others is not about a job, but a fierce love for the Bethlehem community. 

In March, with uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Wickmann began to tackle regulations that prohibited clients from entering the pantry due to a lack of ventilation. 

Rather than resorting to prepackaged bags that were uncustomized to clients’ preferences, Wickmann created a “menu” or grocery list of options where clients could choose their needs, and volunteers could pack the bag for them.

“Dave was incredibly proactive when coronavirus hit with trying to find a way to keep our food pantry open instead of just shutting down,” said Lynnette Delbridge, pastor at Central Moravian Church. 

Wickmann also started “drive-by donations,” which replaced the congregation’s pre-COVID-19 tradition of bringing in food donations to Central Moravian during worship. 

Drive-by donations led to a socially distant exchange where church members could drive to the front of Central Moravian Church and leave their food donations in a red wagon outside. 

“The drive-by donation is just such a good example of Dave’s leadership,” Delbridge said. “Instead of giving up, he found a way to make it work, and honestly, it works even better than what we did before.”

Wickmann said the process of creating a safe environment during COVID-19 was time consuming and took volunteers multiple trials and over four months of planning.

“To some extent, even to this day, we are still tweaking the system to make it work,” Wickmann said. 

In some cases, Wickmann went so far as to hand deliver food to the door of clients who were sick or unable to travel. 

Ronald C., a longtime client of Central Moravian Food Pantry, said one day when he fell ill, Wickmann decided to pack up a bag of food and deliver it to his home. 

 “Here’s a man that goes the extra step,” Ronald C. said, who wished not to share his full last name due to privacy concerns. “There’s some people in life that will take an extra step for you. The difference with Dave is that he will take one, two, three, four, five steps to help you.”

Ronald C. said Wickmann even extended his cell phone number and told him to call if he ever needed anything.

“Most pantries don’t do stuff like that. Most people don’t do that,”  Ronald C. said. “I really like Dave. I guess that’s all I’m saying.”

Beyond his job, Wickmann possesses a natural ability in making Bethlehem residents feel supported. 

Ronald C. said it will always stand out in his mind when Wickmann asked him what it was like to be a Black man in America. 

“Nobody has ever asked me that question,” he said. “When I talk about my perspective and my reality, they want to interject and tell me about their reality. It wasn’t like that when I was speaking to Dave, Dave was only concerned about my reality.”

Judy Williams, one of the pantry’s volunteers, said Wickmann has an effortless way in enabling people to open up to him.

“People feel so supported by him because he does listen, and then he takes that and does everything he can to better the community,” she said.

Delbridge agreed with Williams, and said Wickmann is respected because of the way he treats people.

“You don’t feel like you’re any less important because of his position,” she said. “He makes everyone feel human.”

Other than his eight grandchildren, Wickmann says ultimately helping people gives him the greatest joy in life. 

Despite the obstacle, whether it be lack of cereal or a global pandemic, Wickmann has continued to fight for Bethlehem residents.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever stop,” Williams said. “He’s tireless because of his enthusiasm and love for what he does. I don’t think anything will stop him.”

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