Feeding Our Neighbors: COVID-19 in Beaver County

“When we were hit with this crisis, people were shocked that we were going to stay open, and our response as a board was:
‘Why would we go away? We’re family.'”

– Aida Dugan, Director, The Ladle


The Ambridge-based outreach ministry offering food and fellowship to neighbors in Beaver County was founded in 2005 to “nourish the bodies and souls of the hungry.”

It relies on an all-volunteer network of 22 groups – 15 churches, 6 organizations, and 1 synagogue – to keep the operation running.

It’s the last Monday in April, about an hour before volunteers arrive.

A core group is already at The Ladle, organizing new donations that have come into the pantry since last week and preparing takeout containers for the 80-100 people who would, in the pre-COVID world, be coming in a few hours to enjoy a hot meal together.

Aida and pantry coordinator Kent Schwarz call those who come regularly to see what they might need from the pantry that week and have it ready to go with their hot meal. No asset tests or proof or hardship is required to make use of the pantry, and like many in our area, they’re concerned about meeting increased demand.

“Most of the people who come here are already compromised. Under normal circumstances, they struggle,” Aida says. “They’re our family and we’re here.”

They’ve also raised money to get people through hard times, like when they’re recovering from surgery and unable to work. 

Looking ahead, she imagines that in addition to the non-perishable food, hygiene items, gift cards (for local grocery stores), and bus passes they provide, rent assistance will become a growing need.

In the past, The Ladle has helped people who become homeless, paying for a hotel stay as they connect with local organizations to find a permanent solution.

“A lot of times in our lives,” Aida reflects, “somebody says: ‘Can we do this?’ and you want to say ‘I can’t’ or ‘How?’ but the answer should be, most of the time: ‘Why not? Why can’t we do it?’ 

I think in our own minds we make all these barriers, and most of them are scalable.”

Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and it’s safe once more to gather in groups, Aida hopes you’ll “Come for a meal, so we can know you by name!”

Located at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ambridge for a Monday dinner, The Ladle is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Donations help address special and/or urgent needs, like bus passes, gift cards, and rent assistance.

Contact Aida Dugan to find out how you can help.

Kent shares Aida’s faith that God will continue to provide for their ministry. He got involved at The Ladle 13 years ago through his church, and after serving once a quarter for a year, he felt called to do more.

“I’ve been blessed in my life. I’ve always had a job. I’ve never had to worry about my next meal. But I know a lot of people in this world are not in that situation and I just felt like people should have the very basics, and food is very basic.”

Kent and his wife set about organizing a food pantry at the church as part of The Ladle’s ministry. It quickly evolved into a room-full. In addition to managing the pantry – keeping it organized and well-stocked – Kent has taken on the role of scheduling supporting organizations to serve Monday meals.

“We’re always looking for other churches and organizations to join with us.”

The Ladle does not receive any government funding, only private donations. They serve 53 meals a year (every week, plus Christmas). Groups make a commitment of about $300 to buy, prepare, bring, and serve the food on Monday evenings, and also drop off donations to help keep the pantry stocked.

If your faith-based or community organization can prepare and serve a Monday meal, or bring non-perishable food to the pantry.

Contact Kent Schwarz, Pantry Coordinator at 724.316.0095.