Elizabeth Russo, Interim Soup Kitchen Coordinator, stands next to the soup kitchen’s sanitizer station.

As the coronavirus continues to spread in the Lehigh Valley, Trinity Soup Kitchen, a ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Bethlehem, has been working to serve those in need safely.

“The soup kitchen isn’t just soup,” said Elizabeth Russo, Coordinator of Trinity Soup Kitchen. “It is friendships and support-both material and emotional.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic led to shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, Russo and the soup kitchen’s volunteers were determined to continue their vital ministry, which meant finding new ways of doing things.

“Challenging times call for creative solutions,” said Russo. “We just needed to pivot.”

To help keep staff and volunteers safe, Russo has limited the number of workers who can serve in a day. All workers must wear masks, wash their hands frequently, and check their temperature daily.

Rather than offering a sit-down meal, Trinity Soup Kitchen now serves to-go meals out of a pickup window to help protect the guests. The soup kitchen also partnered with the Lehigh Valley Health Network to provide a sanitizing station for guests to use before they come up to the window.

“We are doing all we can to make sure our volunteers, staff, and guests all remain healthy and safe,” said Russo.

Russo hands out each meal personally, and speaks with each guest to determine if the soup kitchen can help with any other needs. In addition to the daily meals, they offer toiletries, baby supplies, and bus passes, as well as information about housing and government assistance.

“Inside the cafeteria we would serve 100-150 per day, and now we are serving an average of 70 people per day, and the numbers have been increasing,” said Russo. “Our guests are very grateful for the services we provide and have often mentioned that it is the only daily meal.”

Though Trinity Soup Kitchen has recently made changes to how it operates, in some ways the soup kitchen is returning to its roots.

“The soup kitchen may be serving to-go meals now because of the Covid-19 crisis, but the soup kitchen was originally to-go,” said Russo.

Trinity Soup Kitchen became active in 1982 when an economic recession increased the need for food assistance in Bethlehem. Volunteers from the church would cook big pots of soup and travel to different areas of Bethlehem to distribute the soup in disposable containers.

“They handed out soup on the corner from the station wagon,” said Russo. “Literally, it started as a to-go soup kitchen.”

Even in the midst of the pandemic, Trinity Soup Kitchen continues to maintain partnerships with local businesses, food banks, schools, and individuals that all share in the effort to help those in need. They also donate leftovers and expired food products to a local animal sanctuary so that nothing goes to waste.

Russo emphasized that the guests the soup kitchen currently serves come from all walks of life.

“We have older folks with limited access to markets and transportation. We have homeless folks who now have no place to shower, seek shelter, or even use an indoor bathroom because of business closures and restrictions. We serve recently unemployed workers with families and kids at home,” said Russo. “Every person who arrives on our doorstep has their own unique story of struggle.”

If you would like to support Trinity Soup Kitchen, monetary contributions made out to “Trinity Soup Kitchen” may be sent to Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 East Market Street, Bethlehem PA 18018. The soup kitchen is also in need of monthly LANTA bus passes, gift cards to Giant, Weis, Walmart, CVS, or Dollar General, as well as toiletries. If you would like to donate items, please contact Elizabeth Russo.