The Nicest Place in Pennsylvania: Yardley

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Caring for Friends"

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When hunger intensifies, the soup brigade mobilizes.

When New Yorker Julie Snarski first moved to this picturesque community on the Delaware River near Trenton, New Jersey, she felt like she’d wandered onto a television set. From Yardley’s charming downtown with buildings dating back to the 18th century to St. Andrew’s Parish, the beautiful Episcopal church next to a tree-lined pond and historic graveyard, it’s easy to see why Snarski had trouble believing the town was real.

Not only is Yardley real—it’s really kind, too. For nearly four decades, on the third Sunday of every month, St. Andrew’s parishioners have been meeting in the church parish house and assembling meals for elderly and shut-in residents of the five-county Philadelphia area. The coronavirus ended their proud 37-year streak. But church members figured out a way to continue their essential service, just as the need skyrocketed.

Caring for Friends, the organization that distributes the meals, came up with the idea for the parishioners to make meals in their homes. They enlisted neighbors to help, and pretty soon the volunteers were cranking out 1,000 meals and 400 containers of soup each week—almost ten times more food than before.

caring for friends in actionCourtesy Julie Snarski
Just because the parishioners couldn’t mean in person didn’t mean they would let the community go hungry.

“I’ve been impressed how this seed of an idea has taken root,” says Snarski, who nominated Yardley as the Nicest Place in America.

“There was all of this passion and energy around feeding people and food justice, so we thought, What else could we do?,” says the Reverend Hilary Greer. “We got inspired after learning that 40 percent of America’s produce in World War II came from victory gardens in backyards and at churches. I thought, What if we did that here?”

They couldn’t come together to plant a community garden in one place, so they created a community garden throughout the community. Anybody who wanted to join in came to
St. Andrew’s to pick up seedlings to plant at home. As the tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and basil came in, the home gardeners brought the bounty to the church to be distributed to area food banks including the Bucks County Housing Group and the Interfaith Food Alliance, also located in Bucks County.

St. Andrew’s is also educating its largely White parish and community about racism, with training and discussion sessions every Sunday after church via Zoom. (The training and discussion sessions will occur every Sunday via Zoom in July.) “We’re a White, wealthy suburb,” Rev. Greer says. “We need to learn all of the ways that racial injustice fuels criminal injustice, and injustice in the educational system. Until people get how all this is interconnected, they’re never going to understand why all of this is happening.

“We’re going to have conversations that go places that are uncomfortable, it’s how we grow. We will show up to listen, and bring our whole selves to the conversation. We will be in it for the long haul,” says Rev. Greer, “not just while the protests are happening.”

The Nomination

For over 37 years on the 3rd Saturday of the month people would gather in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church’s parish house in Yardley PA and assemble meals for “frail elderly” shut – ins in the Philadelphia 5 county area. Most months the meals which include a protein, vegetable and starch plus bread & butter, a candy and a dessert would number between 600 – 800 meals. Some people would make soup and recently cheese sandwiches were added. All of the meals, soups, and sandwiches were frozen in 5 freezers we have for that purpose. When Covid hit we had to cancel the 3rd Saturday gatherings but Caring for Friends (formerly Aid for Friends) asked if we could continue to provide soup. Our volunteer directors Laurie and John Kenrick put out the word and over 500 pint containers of soup were collected. What they didn’t know is that Craig and Patti Slavtcheff had gone to their neighbors and asked them to make soups for the cause. Well, it happened again the next week and then Caring for Friends asked “do you think you could put together meals” and away we went. Through that same network of neighbors as well as regular parishioners over 1000 meals and about 400 soups are being made and delivered every week to the Caring for Friends warehouse in NE Philadelphia. From there they are delivered to the clients/friends. Caring for Friends has seen the demand for their services increase from 1500 friends a week to over 5000. And St. Andrew’s and friends will continue to provide what it can with God’s help.

Our Priest Rev. Hilary Greer is now talking about a pandemic victory garden. St. Andrew’s is known as the cute little church by the lake but we know it is so much more, as far as feeding people we also collect pantry items for the Interfaith Food Alliance in Morrisville, PA and donations of money for the Penndel Food Pantry and Feeding America through an online Live presentation of King Lear starring Stacey Keach and directed by Gary Sloan who is a St Andrew’s parishioner.

I am a widow living alone with health issues (MS and arthritis) When this all started I got a call from many different church members. Now through Zoom we have church in many different forms and keep in touch and connected that way.

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