Middletown said goodbye this week to two of its most charitable spiritual leaders.
Pastors Chris and Bonnie Peebles departed for their native Ohio on Thursday, leaving behind one of Middletown's smallest churches and its largest food pantry, both of which will continue in their absence.
"We feel we've been very blessed to have been able to impact people's lives and help the less fortunate in the M.O.T. area," said Chris, who, with his wife, co-founded The Bridge Church on North Broad Street and The Basket Food Pantry on Patriot Drive. "We just felt God had told us in our hearts that it was time to do other things, and we're very fortunate to be able to leave our endeavors here in the hands of good people."
The Peebles moved to Middletown from North Carolina in 2008 following a missionary trip to the Dominican Republic.
Upon their arrival, the couple began The Bridge Church, a non-denominational ministry that today has a congregation of about 30 people.
Two years later, the couple launched The Basket Food Pantry behind Benchmark Transmission at 128 Patriot Drive, with the support of Glasgow-based Christ Servants Mission Power 4-U-Community Center.
The pantry initially served about 25 families a week, but has since grown to provide food to nearly 3,000 individuals each month.
"We were very surprised to see it grow as fast as it did," Peebles said. "Part of it was just timing as a result of the downturn in the economy. Suddenly, there were more and more people out of work and in need our assistance, which fortunately we were able to provide."
Last month, the Peebles handed over the reins of The Basket Food Pantry to Pastor Zelda Carter, the executive director of the Family Help Inc. transitional housing units on West Lake Street in Middletown and co-founder of Christ Servants Mission Power 4-U-Community Center, an umbrella organization that runs four other pantries, a soup kitchen and a furniture rescue program.
The Basket has since been rechristened Agape Store House Community Basket, but Carter said clients of the food pantry can expect the same twice-weekly service, as well as some new services currently being added.
"Our goal is to become a resource center, as well as a food pantry," she said. "We want to offer clothing, toys and toiletries, as well as after-school community services programs for our youth, adult services for struggling families and delivery services for the sick and shut-in."
Food items distributed by the pantry are provided by convenience stores and grocery stores in the area.
But the $2,500-a-month cost of operating the small warehouse space had been covered by $5 donations from clients, as well as proceeds from the used furniture store Bonnie Peebles operated out of the church until last month.
Page 2 of 2 - Carter said she's had to increase the recommended donation to $10, while also reaching out to area churches for financial support to help keep the operation running.
"If the economy is getting better, we're not seeing it here," she said. "We see more and more families every month. What we really need are volunteers, monthly pledges and donations from the community."
Non-perishable goods can be dropped off at the food pantry during its hours of operation from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, as well as 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays. Volunteer hours and pledges also can be arranged by calling the pantry at (302) 356-0142.
Meanwhile, across town, Greta and Robert Stewart have assumed leadership of The Bridge Church after becoming ordained pastors in October.
"Chris and Bonnie are the real deal and they will be missed," said Greta, an administrative assistant in Middletown's Public Works Department. "Our goal is to continue the vision they set out by seeking God and asking what we can do to impact our community and help improve the lives of our neighbors."