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Common Ground Ministries expands to Carbon County, hopes for food pantry funding

Sherry Upton (left) and Everett Upton founded Common Ground Ministries in 2004. They purchased a building for the food pantry in 2023 with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Haley O'Brien
/
WVIA News
Sherry Upton (left) and Everett Upton founded Common Ground Ministries in 2004. They purchased a building for the food pantry in 2023 with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

A former church in Beaver Meadows, Carbon County is full of new life after Common Ground Ministries moved in.

Executive Director Everett Upton said their motto is ‘Everybody Eats,” and a large part of the mission is to unite the community.

Common Ground Ministries purchased the former St. Mary's R.C. Church on Berwick Street in Beaver Meadows.
Haley O'Brien
/
WVIA News
Common Ground Ministries purchased the former St. Mary's R.C. Church on Berwick Street in Beaver Meadows.

“We believe that united we can accomplish anything, but divided, then you get isolated, and then you don't have the resources or dialogue going,” he said.

More than a food pantry, the nondenominational center hosts community events and provides spiritual guidance.

Everett and his wife Sherry founded Common Ground Ministries in 2004 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. They later moved to Northeast Pa. and started providing services in Luzerne and Monroe Counties.

For about 15 years, Common Ground Ministries leased spaces for programs such as summer camp and food and clothing distribution.

In 2023, the nonprofit received $500,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act, allowing them to purchase a former church in Beaver Meadows, Carbon County.

Programs

The Uptons have relationships with local grocery stores and farms. They buy food that is soon to expire at a discount and distribute the goods to households within a day.

The pantry was recently given more than 1,000 plants. They delivered them to households and gave the rest away at their Juneteenth event, which Everett believes was the first celebration of its kind in Carbon County.

Common Ground also holds a drive-thru distribution at the Desaki parking lot in Swiftwater on the 4th Sunday of every month starting at 1 p.m., and plans to bring a drive-thru to the center in Beaver Meadows.

While the food is stored in the basement, the property features a library, event space, and a yard in the back.

Common Ground regularly hosts events like paint and sip, karaoke, holiday parties and line dancing.

“And a lot of times when you have financial woes, that's the last thing on your mind, going to kick up your heels,” Sherry said. “Dancing and laughing and just taking the stress out makes a big difference.”

The 4,000-square-foot building will soon have space available for private parties.

“I've already got a few birthday parties scheduled already,” Sherry added. “Downstairs, we have a full theater, we've got two brand new Bluetooth equipped speakers … and the whole lighting system.”

Everett and Sherry, both pastors, can help with funeral or wedding services.

“There are a lot of people that aren't necessarily connected to a household of faith of some sort, they still need some kind of spiritual guidance,” Everett said.

“We fall right in between that line where we can balance helping them spiritually and physically," Sherry added. “We want to encompass both for our community, and people here, because we all deserve it.”

The pantry serves roughly 2,000 people a month, a number Everett says has risen drastically since the pandemic.

Funding

The building allows the center to operate 24 hours a day and serve people when they have a food emergency, but it also means more bills to pay.

The nonprofit relies on grant funding, small donations and volunteers to keep the facility running.

The pantry has two trucks, but one of them is in need of costly repairs.

That’s why Everett wrote the “Upton Bill” three years ago. He’s hoping that funding for food pantries will be included in the federal farm bill, set for renewal in September 2024.

His request is that government funding for food assistance will go beyond food banks, and that 10% of food relief funding will go to food pantries.

“Many are unaware that the small local pantries that distribute the food receive no direct funding from these organizations,” the document states.

Everett is reaching out to local representatives of Congress and hopes that his request will be considered.

“Even if it doesn't show ‘Upton Bill,’ I’ll know the conversation was stimulated by it,” he said. “Because it's a major issue.”

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org