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Increased need for housing and food services put into focus at New Bethany fundraiser

Souper Day New Bethany
Jay Bradley
A crowd of about 200 attended the "Souper Day" event, including U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, on of the speakers.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - An increased number of people in the Lehigh Valley are in need of food and housing assistance -- but there are actions that can be done, and are being done.

That was the message of New Bethany Ministries’ 31st annual “Souper Day” fundraiser on Friday.

  • About 200 donors, volunteers, corporate sponsors, and others attended New Bethany Ministries' 'Souper Day' fundraiser
  • Staff of the poverty-, hunger- and homelessness-focused charity say demand for their services has increased since the pandemic
  • The event historically raises about $150,000

Marc Rittle, executive director of the nonprofit organization, said the current economic challenges have been reflected in the organization’s observations.
“We've seen an increase in the need for housing throughout the entire pandemic,” Rittle said.

“We're seeing the food effect more than anything else. We have more people in line in the soup kitchen in the last two months than we've seen in the last three years. We've had more people come to our food pantry in the last eight months than we have in the last three years."

He said food needs will be New Bethany’s focus as it enters the holidays, with more volunteers working because of the need and relaxed coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

While speaking to the crowd, Associate Executive Director Veronne Demesyeux said the program has seen an increase of more than 150% in people seeking food assistance since the start of the pandemic.

About 200 representatives of corporate sponsors, donors, volunteers, faith community members and friends and families gathered for the annual event at the Event Center at Blue in Bethlehem Township. Souper Day historically raises about $150,000.

Rittle said money raised in such fundraisers goes to help New Bethany's work of housing and feeding local people who need it.

“Rental assistance alone is an extremely expensive thing to do, and staff,'' Rittle said. “Sixty thousand dollars will get you a caseworker who could see up to 20-25 families.”

The event served a soup-focused luncheon to the attendees, who were encouraged to make further donations via envelopes on the tables or electronically.

New Bethany Souper Day Will Lewis
Former local news reporter and anchor Will Lewis was the emcee of the fundraiser

Speakers included U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, Bethlehem City Councilwoman Wandalyn Enix, former local news reporter and anchor Will Lewis, Air Products’ Laurie Hackett, and staff from the organization.

Video presentations paired with data and stories told by speakers were used to show the need for action, highlighting the story of Eugene Kosma, who was employed but because of hardship resided in a storage unit.

He was assisted through New Bethany's single-room occupancy housing program.

According to the organization, citing federal Department of Housing and Urban Development data, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the region has risen 36% since 2020.

That includes 50% more families with children and almost twice as many veterans.

Also,122,000 families are experiencing severe financial instability and are forced to make daily difficult decisions, such as whether to buy groceries or pay rent, Lewis said.

Enix, who was appointed to city council earlier this year, was keynote speaker of the event. She said she accepted immediately when asked to deliver remarks, given how important she sees New Bethany's impact.

“I know their work and I know people" whose lives have been saved, Enix said.

“Their lives have been saved. They're off the street. They get medical care. They get food.”
Bethlehem City Councilwoman Wandalyn Enix

“Their lives have been saved. They're off the street. They get medical care. They get food.”

She said Bethlehem has affordable housing, but the number of homeless people is higher than what it appears to be.

“We have a lot of people who need help,” Enix said. “They're virtually hiding, sleeping on people's couches. There's more of that than we know.

“We can't have that anywhere in the United States. We just have to do something about it, and so we do have a plan going on.”

Rittle said policies that need to be addressed quickly include the eviction crisis, and to continue providing housing-first assistance to people who need it. He said he remains optimistic due to projects on the horizon.