Ryan Egli, of Fishtown’s Liberti Church East, said that he meets many people who need help with big problems — parents laid off from full-time jobs, older people living without access to good meals, or single mothers struggling with five or six children.
In turn, Egli and Liberti Church are attempting to meet those big problems with small, but meaningful, solutions.
“It’s about one little meal and a nice gesture from somebody,” Egli said.
Families in need in Fishtown, Olde Richmond, Kensington and other Philadelphia neighborhoods will receive free Easter dinners on March 30 as part of the church’s third-annual Easter outreach program.
Liberti Church East, located in 2424 Studios on East York Street, partnered with other branches of its church — elsewhere in the city and in Harrisburg — to raise $40,000 for the program last year, and delivered 1,200 Easter meals to local families.
This year, Liberti aims to raise $50,000 and deliver 1,500 meals.
Egli, director of mercy and outreach at Liberti, conceived of the Easter dinner giveaway when he was only a church member at Liberti East, and still a recent transplant to Philadelphia from his native Illinois.
It always struck him as odd, Egli said, that Easter wasn’t a dedicated day of volunteer service.
When the Easter outreach program began in 2010, Egli said the church was so unsure of the interest in the project that a church pastor included volunteers’ personal cell phone numbers in the ad. Within days, they had received over a hundred messages from families asking for help.
This year, Liberti will need about 300 volunteers to deliver the planned 1,500 meals. Many, Egli said, will be local community members who have helped out in the past. Congregation members and other volunteers will each deliver meals to five to seven homes.
Every family will receive a ham that serves four people from Hatfield Hams, along with a selection of side dishes from Philabundance, the region’s largest food bank and hunger relief organization.
Church members will offer to pray with the families receiving dinners, offer them emotional support, and also offer to follow up after Easter to address needs or problems the family may be facing.
Philip Stoltzfus, a Liberti Church East member as well as president of the Olde Richmond Civic Association, said past experiences with the Easter outreach program have been eye-opening.
“There’s families in Olde Richmond, Fishtown, Kensington, people all over our community — they’re in a tough place,” he said.
Stoltzfus recalled the experience of volunteering for this program alongside his wife as an emotional one.
“There were some Hispanic families, there were some folks who spoke very little English,” he recalled. “Some of them are shut-ins, some of them are disconnected from the communities in which they live. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices – it’s an opportunity not only to get a meal but certainly also to make a connection with people who live in the River Wards.”
With the $50,000 goal, Liberti also plans to use some of the funds to pay for the digging of two wells in Southern Sudan.
The two wells could provide drinking water to up to 6,000 people, Egli said. That effort is being coordinated through the non-profit groups Water is Basic, African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), and church friends and members who are doing missionary work in the region currently.
Egli said that this project is both a way to help ease families facing tough circumstances, and for the church to “show love” to their community.
“For all Christians, Easter is the centerpiece of the calendar. It’s what the whole year points to, the whole religion points to the resurrection of Jesus,” Egli said. “We’re people who’ve been shown great mercy and kindness by God, so we try to show mercy and kindness to others.”
To learn more about Liberti Church’s Easter Outreach project, visit www.libertieasteroutreach.com. To request a free Easter dinner, call 267-507-4250.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.