If you had just enough money to either pay rent or provide food for your family, which would you choose? People all across the country face this harsh decision, and many others like it, every single day. Some of these people may live in your community.
For the residents of Elizabethtown, United Churches Elizabethtown Area (UCEA), along with several members of the community, organizations, businesses and social service providers, have come together to create one centralized location where the community’s needs can be met – Community Place on Washington (CPOW).
UCEA was established in the 1960s to aid women with childcare services so that they could join the workforce. Doug Lamb, owner of Doug Lamb Construction, Inc., serves on the leadership team of UCEA. The search for a vacant building to house UCEA’s food bank and clothing barn, as well as other agencies and businesses, became a “discovery process.”
“United Churches has been looking for 20 years for a building where we could locate our services,” Doug explains. “When we bought this facility [in July 2018], the first thing we wanted to do was move our food pantry here. We’ve rented space for 40 years, so we wanted to have our own space.”
Before CPOW was founded, many of the area’s social services were spread throughout the town. “They were in scattered locations. Some were held in church basements, some were held in rental spaces on Market Street, and people couldn’t find or make all of the connections,” he shares. “The more we centralize it, the more efficient we will be.”
Susan Fritz, who joined UCEA during the mid-90s, is vice president of United Churches. She agrees with Doug that finding a facility to house all of the community’s needs was challenging. “It was difficult in finding a place because it has to be downtown, it has to have parking, and it has to be accessible. And, then you have to meet the zoning laws,” she explains. “The food bank has been moved five times since I’ve been involved with United Churches.”
The food pantry, known as the Community Cupboard of Elizabethtown, is open twice a week. However, there’s a variety of other nonprofit organizations and agencies located at CPOW, including Elizabethtown Community Housing & Outreach Services (ECHOS); Elizabethtown Area Communities that Care; Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), during tax season; and Good Samaritan Services (located in Ephrata, they provide individualized one-on-one family support services). Community Action Partnership (which is located in Lancaster City) has a satellite office at CPOW, offering their program Parents as Teachers, as does the Ann B. Barshinger Financial Empowerment Center, focusing on financial education, literacy and empowerment; AmeriCorps VISTA; Community Gardens; and different educational trainings for community members.
Deb Jones is the executive director of ECHOS, which celebrated its third anniversary in July. “Elizabethtown is on the fringes of the county, which has made the town very vulnerable over the years of not being able to get services,” Deb exclaims.
ECHOS helps to “connect families and individuals experiencing or at-risk for homelessness with urgent and long-term services.” The agency offers a plethora of services, including GED classes, a winter shelter (the only winter shelter in the northwest region of Lancaster County) and two crisis-housing units on the property (five in total). In a collaborative effort with the medical community, Penn State Health – which has a local practice in town – joined with ECHOS to bring in grant money for health education and awareness.
There is also the Elizabethtown Area HUB, which is one of the United Way Collective Impact partnerships. In 2015, Elizabethtown Area HUB received a United Ways Collective Impact Grant, helping to get the ball rolling and mobilizing a lot of these agencies in the E-town area. Deb explains that, “The Elizabethtown Area HUB is a collaboration of local social service agencies and businesses that collaborate to provide efficient and effective services to our community members.”
“There are all of these multi-dimensions that have been working together to make this a reality, and United Churches was able to pave the way,” Deb says. “But, I think we also need to give credit to the [St. Peter] Catholic church that was selling the property and local realtor Lethea Myers, who really advocated for the purchase. So, you can kind of see you have the faith piece of it, the real estate piece, you have the nonprofit piece and then you harness the support of the businesses in the community.”
What factors have played a role in making CPOW a hub for those in need? One is the affordable housing crisis. Deb says this is not only an Elizabethtown issue, but also a nationwide issue. Another factor is the number of disruptions in the family (for instance, multi-generations in one household).
Deb shares that what the town needs is for Lancaster City to disperse more of its services to other locations. “We need to see more of that happening. It’s important for us because Elizabethtown is 21 miles from Lancaster City.”
Another need is a year-long shelter. The winter shelter is open for 17 weeks. Deb says, “When we closed shop on April 3, 2019, 1,770 beds were filled in the winter shelter. That’s just in this area. It takes 73 volunteers a week to run the shelter in addition to ECHOS’ staff that’s designated for that program.”
The third need calls for an increase in education and “breaking down the myths of poverty, not homelessness or hunger, but general poverty.”
“It’s not about entitlement but empowerment. We’re trying to help families move forward,” Deb shares, “to go from surviving to thriving.”
Doug emphasizes that one thing is certain – there are people who want to help. “When you begin to communicate to your community, and they know how they can start to get involved, it changes the dynamic so much.”
For general inquiries or information, or if you would like to contribute to the capital campaign, individual agencies, the food bank or clothing barn, call 717-689-3484 or visit communityplaceetown.org.
Elizabethtown Area Communities That Care and ECHOS will be participating in the Extraordinary Give on November 22.
61 E. Washington St., Elizabethtown. Campus is open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Agencies may have different hours.