Blessings of Hope is a Christian-based nonprofit food distribution center that operates out of Warwick Township and has a long-term storage facility in East Petersburg. Every month, the nonprofit provides communities with enough food for 2 million meals and shares the love of Jesus with those they help. The center acts as a go-between, receiving food on a large scale from food suppliers, such as supermarket chains and industry wholesalers, then distributing it in smaller quantities to roughly 800 nonprofits — like food banks, shelters, regional ministries, churches and disaster relief organizations — that connect communities directly with much-needed food.
Blessing of Hope started from the vision of Aaron Fisher, who grew up with food insecurity and later volunteered at an outreach that gave away food. He realized during that time that a lot of food was going to landfills because there was no place to sort and distribute large volumes of individual food products. For instance, a local food bank doesn’t have room to process or store an entire truckload of cheese that a food supplier has available to donate.
At first Fisher thought someone else would answer the need — but in 2006, he launched the nonprofit himself with the help of the Lapp brothers, Steve, Jake and David.
By October 2010, the group had committed to packing seven banana boxes a week out of a three-car garage, and at the time they considered this an enormous amount of food. Now, their operation has grown so much that they are distributing the equivalent of 70,000 meals per day out of a large warehouse with a fleet of 50 semitrailers, overseen by about 50 staff members and a legion of volunteers. In 2021, they distributed 19.8 million meals’ worth of food and delivered thousands of boxes of food across the country.
The growth over the past few years in particular has been exceptional. In August 2019, they purchased a 44,000-square-foot warehouse in Leola, expecting that they would grow into it over the course of a decade and could rent out portions of it until then. After all, from 2016 to 2019 they had been operating out of a rented warehouse that was only 16,300 square feet. Within just six months, however, they outgrew their new warehouse and had to use trailers for additional storage. When COVID-19 hit, they were ready to ramp up distribution.
Around the time they were facing this explosive growth, they ran into a zoning problem. Their Leola warehouse stands in an agriculture zone, but since they allow people into the building to select food products for their food banks or community outreaches, the building is regarded as operating as a retail space. Changes had to be made, and they were forced to look for new locations.
“It almost seemed like God was saying we were thinking too small,” said David Lapp, the full-time CEO of Blessings of Hope and one of its founders, in an interview with The Lancaster Patriot.
In March 2021, they purchased a 46-acre property on the east side of Ephrata. There, they plan to build a new 160,000-square-foot facility that would be fully operational by the end of 2023. Not only will the new building give them much-needed space for the high volumes of food, volunteers, and representatives of organizations who come to pick up products, the building will also enable them to start food processing. They plan to use canning, dehydration and similar methods to give fresh foods a shelf-stable life, allowing far more of the fresh foods to be used rather than wasted.
This spring, to follow zoning laws, they will be opening a new distribution location in downtown Lancaster where Treasures Markets used to be so that churches, food banks and shelters can pick up food to stock their shelves and meet their needs.
Although the food that Blessings of Hope receives is frequently from local sources, the reach of the organization is nationwide. Only a small percentage of the food stays in Lancaster County: The nonprofit serves a roughly 200-mile radius, getting food out as far as Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., and they have a satellite warehouse in Kentucky that serves that region. Food donations come in from places as far as Florida and California, since the truckers who bring in food to retail stores and other industry locations need somewhere to drop off food that has been rejected.
Just because food has been rejected does not mean that it is not suitable for consumption. There is a tremendous amount of food available, Lapp explained, but there are a variety of reasons why stores would decide not to stock it. Products might have misprinted labels, or there might be too many of one type of product for a store to sell it quickly enough. There are times when a product is unsellable because the package says it weighs more than it does, like it claims to be 8 ounces but is only 7.5 ounces. There are other times when a store’s distribution center cannot afford to sort through produce when 90% is good and 10% is bad, so they get rid of all of it. Stores also want to only stock goods that have a certain amount of time before the sell-by and expiration dates so that their customers have enough time to make their purchases and enjoy the food at maximum freshness.
“Our philosophy is, if the farmer can grow it and send it to market, we can at least sort it,” Lapp said. “Because there’s a lot of good food that gets wasted because people just don’t want to deal with it.”
“There is no food shortage. There’s a management shortage,” he added. “There’s a need to be able to take the food that we’re already producing and utilizing it and, you know, finding creative ways to do that.”
Blessings of Hope’s efforts are always expanding as they are presented with more opportunities. “Our goal is to not say no to what God wants to do,” Lapp said. Most recently, they have realized that there is no reason they cannot use their successful model to make an impact on worldwide hunger by shipping dry goods internationally.
Although Blessings of Hope has been growing rapidly, they have remained fully booked with volunteers. Their greatest need is prayer, and they will always need financial support. In 2018, their budget was $600,000, whereas last year it was over $5 million. Financial contributions can be made through their webpage, blessingsofhope.com/give-now, or by check. In light of the nonprofit’s success despite its humble origins, Lapp encourages the community to step out in faith to make the world a better place. Many people, he said, live in fear, which means many ideas and visions are never acted upon that could make a valuable change. To make a difference, often all that needs to happen is for someone to be willing to just begin the work.
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