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Helping others learn to help themselves



Thinking about what you will have for dinner tonight? What you will wear today? How you will get to where you need to go and where you will sleep tonight? No? That’s because these are all pretty easily answered for most of us. Often running on auto-pilot, these are things we put little thought into, but for the overwhelming population of the underprivileged in Lycoming County, the answers to these questions are unknown.

Thank goodness someone is willing to provide an answer.

The Rev. Velinda Smith runs Sojourner Truth Ministries, 501 High Street, supported, in part, by Lycoming County United Way. Sojourner Truth, born as Isabella Baumfree in 1797, was a slave in New York and Pennsylvania. She was freed in 1822 by the Pennsylvania Legislature. Upon receiving her freedom, she became a Methodist preacher and changed her name, preaching against slavery and women’s rights.

Rev. Velinda, along with her husband and a countless number of volunteers and staff, open the doors to the building seven days a week to “the disenfranchised, the homeless, and lonely of any age or culture.”

Sojourner’s mission is to provide lunch seven days a week, while offering friendship and assistance for local individuals, and ministries that arise from the needs of those who come through the doors. A worship service is provided through the mission church service Sunday afternoons at 1:30 p.m., along with weekly services designed for both men and women.

In addition to a continental breakfast served at 8 a.m. weekdays and a hot breakfast Saturday and Sunday; a free, healthy lunch is served each day at 11:30 a.m. A Saturday Café is served by the local church communities of faith. And on Sundays, a full Sunday dinner is shared after the 1:30 p.m. worship service.

Perhaps what sets Sojourner apart from other food providers is the way in which the 80 to 100 visitors are treated each day.

“We are not a soup kitchen,” Rev. Velinda said. “We are a café. We serve all the food. And on Fridays, we do takeout so if there are any leftovers, people can take it along with them.”

“From Our Hands to Yours,” open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., offers free adult and children’s clothing.

“Once a month, an individual or family can get six outfits or 12 items,” Rev. Velinda said. “If there are four children, each will get three outfits, and two pairs of shoes and socks. We really appreciate all of the community support. We are in desperate need of men’s clothing all the time.”

Sojourner has also established a help desk, offering social services to its patrons. Two social workers, one Rev. Velinda’s daughter, Derecia, offer a listening ear, ministry and referrals for emergency housing shelters, health and dental care agencies, pregnancy care centers, food distribution centers and other local agencies.

“We have seen everything,” Derecia said. “Clothing, housing needs, food, help applying for jobs – we helped a girl get an ID and another who was starting a job the following Monday who lost her car keys. It cost too much to get new ones so we helped her track down a way to get her car running.”

And, Derecia added, she and her co-worker do a lot of listening.

“We do a lot of talking to people and a lot of scripture sharing,” she said. “Not too long ago, there was a girl who came in and you could see all over her face that something was wrong. As she was telling me what was going on, I gave her some scripture that I was being drawn to share. She said, ‘How did you know? I just feel so much better.’ When you see someone broken — spiritually, physically — you help them walk away with a smile.”

But Sojourner doesn’t stop there. On Tuesdays, fresh produce is given out at 10:30 a.m., and on Wednesdays at the same time, bread and pastries are provided.

On the third Friday of each month, a nutrition class is offered and also once a month, dental necessities are provided to those who need them.

“You see, we don’t want to just help people. We want to teach others how to help themselves,” Rev. Velinda said.

“Rev. Velinda and her associates are providing more than a temporary sanctuary for those she serves,” said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. “Each day meals, socialization, life skills and educational training are entwined in the mission of Sojourner Truth. Human dignity uplifts the spirit in all of us and is a prime motivation in the activities Sojourner is providing to those they serve.”

Food and clothing donations are accepted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays until 8 p.m. For more information about Sojourner Truth Ministries, visit

Lycoming County United Way is proud to provide $10,000 to Sojourner Truth Ministries. But we cannot do it without you. Help us continue support by making a contribution today. Call Lycoming County United Way at 323-9448 or visit



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