CAMDEN (BRN) — Several organizations with ties to the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey united together to serve the Camden community during a ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new immigration Welcome Center at Veteran’s Memorial Family School on May 23.
Wholesome Riches, with volunteers from Keystone Fellowship Church, South Jersey, and BRN’s Disaster Relief team, with volunteers from SOAR Church and First Baptist Church, Woodbine, gathered to prepare lunch for over 500 guests attending the ceremony. Guests included several Camden city council members and New Jersey’s Department of Education representatives, among others.
Wholesome Riches is a compassion ministry led by Michele Pilla, a former Camden school teacher who now serves underprivileged communities with food distribution and life skills training. Pilla’s husband Matt is pastor of Keystone Fellowship, South Jersey, which meets in Blackwood, N.J.
Veteran’s Memorial Family School was one of the first schools Pilla engaged in preparing weekend bags of foods after she discovered many students were coming back to school hungry on Mondays.
Since that time, her ministry has grown to include eight other schools and access to all 25 schools in the Camden City school district. The weekend food distribution has grown into regularly scheduled food giveaways for the whole family at multiple schools. Out of the relationships made, there are now several family classes that participants can attend to help them advance in various areas. Because of Wholesome Riches’ demonstration of compassion, they are permitted to share the Gospel with their participants.
“God has graciously opened up the door time and time again,” Pilla said, explaining that they have served thousands of people already. “Last year, we served 18,000 people, and this year, we expect to double that.”
All of this work made it seem natural for Veteran’s Memorial to ask Pilla for assistance with the grand opening of their exciting new Welcome Center, a Labor Management Collaborative with N.J.’s Department of Education, New Jersey Education Association, and the Camden Education Association to help provide school registration and placement into language assistance programs and other resources.
After connecting with BRN PA/SJ Disaster Relief (DR) Director Kenton Hunt and BRN’s Director of Compassion Ministries Buff McNickle, Pilla offered to provide lunch for all the attendees.
With the assistance of a Send Relief grant, Hunt organized a team of volunteers from SOAR Church and First Baptist Church, Woodbine, to set up the DR Field Kitchen and to prepare and serve lunch. Many of the volunteers had just attended their first DR training just a few weeks prior to the event. After the day’s event, the DR team delivered several meals to the nearby Cathedral Kitchen homeless shelter.
While DR set up the kitchen, Wholesome Riches hosted its regular food distribution at the back of the school, where residents drove up to receive bags of free food. Several students from the school were on hand to help share the bags of food through a community service project called “Love Your Neighbor,” which Pilla help set up with the school.
Prior to the ceremony, held in the school’s gym, guests visited tables of resources from a variety of community resources, including Wholesome Riches. After the ribbon cutting ceremony, guests enjoyed the free meals.
“Michele Pilla and Wholesome Riches has quite the ministry going on here,” shared Hunt. “We are thrilled to support her by providing a lunch for the grand opening.”
First-time volunteer, Paula Smith, from SOAR Church, said she came out to help “to find out what it is all about and help people and do the work of the Lord.”
Joy Brown, of SOAR Church AC in Richland, N. J., agreed about her first time experience serving in disaster relief. “It’s been an overwhelming experience. I got excited… it is beautiful to be with a team that is faith-based, and we are excited to feed and meet new people all the time,” she said.
Nilsia Cruz, family coordinator at Veteran’s Memorial School, expressed her appreciation for Pilla and Wholesome Riches. “I just want to say how thankful we are to have Wholesome Riches as one of our partners. They have helped this school in so many things for the past three years, and we’re so grateful to them. Not only do they do the food bank on a monthly basis, they also assist us at Christmas time and during special holidays. They provide special baskets for our families, and they support our families one hundred percent.”
Jose Ramos, who works for the Camden school district in the department of solutions and helps Pilla with translation, said Wholesome Riches has been doing a wonderful job in outreach and servicing families. “It has been phenomenal. I believe that every family that has participated has been very blessed by the ministry, and we are looking forward to growing.”
Pilla affirmed, “The need for food here is great. But most importantly is their need for love and acceptance and to know that they have a Savior who loves them, whose going to meet them in their time of need. Not only that, but hope in their circumstances. We are just so blessed to be here.”