When the latest U.S. Census data was released in 2011, Reading, Pa., was listed as the poorest city in America. Those who live there, though, didn’t need the census to tell them that times were tough.
Mary Wolfe, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Reading, has seen the needs in Reading first-hand. “Our members are from the neighborhood and are living below the poverty line,” she says. “A lot of members are unemployed or employed part-time.”
Hope has a number of ministries dedicated to helping those in need, some of which have been supported by ELCA World Hunger. They have a food pantry that, Mary says, serves around 275 people per month. They also have an after-school program, where between 25 and 40 kids come each week to hang out and get a bite to eat.
Hope is also in the process of renovating an empty home across the street from the church building to create a place where the community can meet.
“The neighborhood has no gathering places, no parks, no restaurants, no coffee shops, no diners,” Mary says.
The space, called Café Esperanza, will not only be a place where members of the community can grab a coffee or a sandwich, but it will be a business where Hope’s youth can learn marketable skills and build their résumés while running the cash register and making drinks, says Mary.
The café will also have space for classes like yoga and dance, as well as wall space where local artists will be able to feature and sell their work.
Though times are tough, Mary says, neither Reading nor Hope are lacking for faith. And at Christmas, Hope will have an opportunity to share that hope with the world.
In the summer of 2012, Hope was chosen to be the location of a CBS Christmas special called “One Christmas Story: People Rich in Spirit.”
Filmed over the summer, Mary says, the video crews brought a lot of excitement to the congregation and to the city.
“We hope we’ll be able to show the world that we are full of faith, and we are a place of hope in this neighborhood,” Mary says.
“There is so much richness here, and the folks here are so rich in spirit,” Mary continues. “This will give them an opportunity to show off to the whole world how much they have to offer and how much there is still to celebrate in this city and in the people here and also in their own faith.”
“One Christmas Story: People Rich in Spirit” will air on Christmas Eve at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time.