Miss Claire is a vibrant 69-year-old woman from Bucks County, PA who has been working hard her entire life, yet still faces the challenge of putting food on the table. After 15 years of suffering from food insecurity, she turned to the Bucks County Housing Group (BCHG), an organization she called a “godsend.”
“It was difficult to ask for help for many, many years. I guess it was pride. I just didn’t want to ask for the assistance that I needed. I was using my credit card, and things just started going up and up and up,” Miss Claire explained. “I finally swallowed my pride. This has helped me a great deal to come to the food pantry, so this is very emotional for me, but I think this organization needs to know how much they are helping people.”
The organization’s doors opened in 1980 with the goal of providing safe, secure housing, nutritious food, and essential social services to homeless and insecure families in Bucks County. It currently operates two choice-based community food pantries in Doylestown and Penndel, two Mobile Markets, and two community gardens. In a typical year, BCHG distributes more than $1,000,000 of food through their pantries to over 400 individuals each week.
Erik Clare is the Executive Director of the Housing Group and has made it his life’s mission to serve as many of his own neighbors in need as he can.
“There’s just too many resources to have people struggle in the United States, so to me, there’s no reason people have to suffer and not have food on their tables,” said Erik. “The food that we receive from Philabundance has a great impact on our ability to serve all of our clients. There’s no way we’d be able to serve the amount of people we do without the food and the partnership. Not only do they provide us with the food resources, but also the guidance and best practices. They’ve really helped us grow this facility.”
The food pantry initially began as a means to assist the Housing Group’s homeless clients, and Erik said it has grown “astronomically” over the past four-plus decades.
Shelia Ciocian, a regular volunteer at the pantry, couldn’t agree more.
“Oh my gosh it’s really grown. We used to work out of the basement downstairs and just pack bags and hand them out. Nobody had a choice,” said Sheila. “And then we moved upstairs, and everything is set up like a grocery store. Which is really great because some people don’t want five cans of soup in their closet.”
Erik applauded Philabundance for assisting with the renovation and most importantly, the expansion of the pantry program to provide that choice.
“Philabundance was instrumental in providing guidance as we did that. It allows us to serve our clients with more dignity, a more dignified experience,” he said. “They’re getting the food that they want instead of what is just available.”
“Oh it’s great, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, breads, canned goods and they have very good quality, and everybody likes to eat it. When you have a family of four and everybody likes something, you’re lucky,” explained Miss Diana, who’s been a client of the Housing Group for a decade. “It’s very important. I wouldn’t be able to feed my family. I wouldn’t. The supermarket prices are so expensive. I’ve been coming here for a number of years and they’re really helpful. I survive on this.”
Survival and success for the children in the Bucks County community as well, Erik said, inspires him to continue the BCHG mission every day.
“I’m especially motivated by the children,” said Erik. “Their parents might have been forced into choices, and I want to give the kids the opportunity to help themselves no matter what their situation is.”
Erik praised his staff for working alongside him to meet and exceed the organization’s goals each and every day.
“My staff is the most motivated, compassionate group of people that I’ve ever met. None of this would be able to happen without their commitment and their love to make their community a better place.”
“It’s been a great help in my life,” said Miss Claire. “The food, the people have been very nice, very helpful, very cheerful, never make you feel bad about having to be here. This really helps a great deal, and I’m very, very grateful.”