Please support the Matthew 25 Collection November 24, 2019 Collection fights Poverty, Hunger & Homelessness in our Diocese.

The funds collected remain in our area to help provide food, clothing and shelter for our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate.

The collection will take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 16. Learn more at

Each year on the Saturday before Christmas, Aimee Ketchum and her daughters wake up well before dawn, hop in their car and head to downtown Lancaster.

By the time they get to their destination at 4:00 a.m., the Ketchums find scores of people waiting in line, braving the cold – and sometimes the snow – for the annual holiday tradition. The Ketchums aren’t searching for bargains on Christmas gifts, though. They’re helping to distribute meals and cold weather items to those who are less fortunate.

Now in its 33 year, the Lancaster County Project for the Needy distributes more than 2,500 boxes of food, complete with everything recipients need to cook a holiday meal that will feed six to eight people.

The meal-distribution day takes place a few days before Christmas at Clip- per Magazine Stadium. As early as 3 a.m., recipients line up at the venue, where more than 500 volunteers greet them with turkeys, roasting pans, potatoes, eggs, milk, bread, fruits and vegetables.

Additional volunteers deliver packages of food to local residents who are unable to travel to the stadium.

“Our mission is to provide everyone in need with food, to ensure that they have a nice holiday meal for Christmas, said Tom Fasnacht, project coordinator and a member of St. James Parish in Lititz.

An Annual Tradition

Aimee Ketchum began volunteering with the annual project more than 15 years ago. When her daughters were kindergarten-age, she started bring- ing them with her, instilling the value of service at an early age.

The Ketchums, members of St. James Parish in Lititz, have also under- taken efforts to provide people with winter-weather items, especially as they wait in line for their package of food.

“We noticed early on that the recipients stand- ing in line weren’t always dressed in the warmest clothes. I had my children dressed in snow pants, gloves and hats, and we’d see babies with garbage bags around their strollers,” Ketchum said. “So we had the idea that we could help the recipients in line with bringing hot chocolate and maybe some hats, gloves and scarves.”

Over the years, their collection of the items – largely gathered through donation boxes they place throughout town – grew to include coats, boots, snow pants and blankets.

“One year, we had three or four full carloads with more than 2,000 pieces,” she said. Ketchum’s daughter, Kayla, a high school senior, said collecting the winter-weather items and serving on food distribution day is part of her family’s Christmas traditions.

“It definitely makes us a lot more thankful for what we have, and when we’re opening our gifts on Christmas, it brings us back to reality to think about everybody who isn’t as fortunate as we are,” she said.

More than 500 volunteers assist with providing items for a holiday meal that will feed six to eight people. The project is a recipient of grant moneys awarded through the Diocese’s Matthew 25 Collection its grant application was supported by Assumption BVM Parish in Lancaster.
The Lancaster County Project for the Needy distributes more than 2,500 boxes of food during a day of service at Clipper Magazine Stadium on the Saturday before Christmas.

Matthew 25 Grants at Work

The Lancaster County Project for the Needy began in 1986, an effort of two men who set out to help the less fortunate by giving grocery bags filled with food necessary to make a meal. The first year, they distributed more than 150 turkeys.

Today, the project gives out more than 2,500 turkeys and all the trimmings, feeding in excess of 10,000 people.

“It’s an amazing day,” Fasnacht said. “The spirit of the volunteers is incredible. We get young and old, and to see how excited the young people are is inspirational. I see a lot of the young people engage the recipients and start conversations with them, to really understand what it is that’s happening in their lives.”

According to the project, 72 percent of all house- holds in Lancaster County are cost-burdened, mean- ing that families utilize at least 50 percent of their income for rent/mortgage, utilities and transportation.

The Lancaster County Project for the Needy is a recipient of grant money distributed from the Diocese of Harrisburg’s annual Matthew 25 Collection. The collection, which will take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 24, sup- ports efforts that provide food, clothing and shelter.

Seventy-five percent of the money contributed to the Matthew 25 Collection is distributed through grants to parish-supported ministries, like the out- reach center.

Twenty-five percent of the collection is given back to the parishes for their support of people in need.

“We have been very blessed through the Matthew 25 grant that we receive because we have been able to purchase additional turkeys and provide more meals throughout the county. Each year, we’ve been able to grow this project, and it’s only through generous donations to Matthew 25,” Fasnacht said.

“It can be very stressful for people who are trying to figure out how they’re going to buy gifts for their children, or how they’re going to have a meal for their family. We hope that we can relieve a little bit of that stress and give a little joy to people, so they don’t have to worry about putting a meal on the table. Matthew 25 is about helping people who don’t necessarily have what we have,” he said.

Romaine Hornberger and Claudia Kendall, residents of a Section 8 Housing complex in Lancaster, are recipients of food items the project volunteers deliver.

“It means a lot, because there are a lot of us that live here that have no families and really rely on something good they can make,” she said. “Every- body seems really happy to get it. It’s very nice to get something different, a full meal at the holidays.

“We thank them very much for what they’re doing, because it’s for a good purpose,” Hornberger said of the project’s volunteers and the contributors to the Matthew 25 Collection. “We are grateful for them.”

“It really comes in handy. Not everybody has family around here,” said Kendall. “And there’s always some- body here, maybe a neighbor, who will share with other people, or cook the meal for people who don’t know how to.”

“We’re grateful that there are people out there who even think of us, to do these meals,” she said.

(This is the second in a series of three articles on organizations supported by the Diocese’s Matthew 25 Collection to provide food, clothing and shelter to people in our communities. The collection will take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 24. Learn more at


By Jen Reed
The Catholic Witness