Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just to the north of Philadelphia, is an area of rolling hills dotted with neat suburban neighborhoods, large retail centers and thriving public schools. By many accounts, it’s one of the most desirable places to live in the state, and few know it better than John Clauss. A lifelong Bucks Countian, he now operates his business, JMJ Direct Powered by PRO Forma (asi/491747), in Warrington, a Central Bucks town near the border with Montgomery County to the west.
Local children assemble baskets to distribute to families during FEAST’s annual Easter dinner.
But behind the affluence is another reality, one that Clauss happened to mention to a friend about five years ago. Sitting together at a local restaurant, they discussed how Bucks County, despite its reputation as a land of plenty, is still home to needy people who appreciate extra support, particularly on the holidays. So they decided to host a community meal the day before Thanksgiving that year.
“We served 100 meals that day, and then 250 a few days before Christmas a month later,” says Clauss. “We kept serving more and more food.”
As the demand for meals grew and expanded to include Montgomery County families, Clauss needed a way to gain more funding. So he spent about a year and a half establishing a 501(c)(3) that he named Feeding Everyone at Special Times (FEAST). Today, he and about 20 volunteers serve meals with donated food a few days before Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter each year, plus a few smaller events such as spaghetti and BBQ dinners, at the Warrington Fire House.
“It’s my other full-time job,” Clauss says. “This Easter, we’ll serve 1,500 meals and give out baskets. There are so many people in need right here.”
Nearby food distributors, such as Clemens Food Group in Hatfield, PA, and Liscio’s Bakery in Glassboro, NJ, have been instrumental with donations, while businesses such as Soprano’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Warrington is an official drop-off location in the weeks leading up to the next meal.
At first, it was difficult to get the word out to the people in need, particularly since school districts were reticent to disclose names for privacy reasons. But over time, word spread. “We have so many people who come to us now,” says Clauss. “We reach out to schools, churches and different community organizations such as the Rotary Club to let people know they can join us.”
Interested parties simply RSVP to FEAST so Clauss has an idea of how much food they’ll need for a given meal; he has always eschewed any kind of pre-qualifying process to determine need. “If someone wants a free meal from us, they win,” he says.
Over the next year or so, Clauss would like to see FEAST expand beyond the meals, perhaps even establishing a scholarship fund for local kids and adopting a few families to make sure they have holiday gifts. “It’s all about networking, and getting the word out to the right people,” he says. “We’re continuing to build a support base.”
For more information and to donate, please visit www.facebook.com/FeedingEveryoneatSpecialTimes.