Since the late 1980’s a community breakfast has been served at St Paul’s to all who come. On any given Sunday anywhere from 80 to 140 people are seated and served a hot breakfast consisting of pancakes and eggs, often augmented by meat, muffins or other treats provided by volunteers. This work was started by the teens at St Paul’s who soon received the enthusiastic support of a host of volunteers from various parishes in the region surrounding Camden. Breakfast is served each Sunday from 9.00 am until 10.00 am regardless of weather or season. On the streets St Paul’s is affectionately known as the “Pancake House”.
Breakfast guests have always been invited and welcomed to the Sunday morning Eucharist, but for many the idea of “Eucharist” seemed a step too far - too fast. In response the leadership at St Paul’s began the Sunday evening service and community supper. The service follows the Prayer Book order of Evening Prayer augmented with hymns and a simple teaching homily. The supper which follows provides a meal, but also an opportunity for people to share fellowship in a church setting. For many it has provided a place to pray, to recollect, and to begin to tackle some of the serious issues that each new week brings. Anywhere from 50 to 100 people attend each week.
In a city where one half of the population is under the age of twenty-one it is not surprising that children and young people should be very close to the heart of the church. From 1990 onwards, St Paul’s has sponsored a summer program for city children. Since 2000 the program has been known as Camp Faith. Approximately 75 children registered for Camp Faith 2010. Eleven city teens were hired as camp counselors and had the opportunity to learn some basic work skills. The adult staff were all young adults who had themselves once been campers and counselors. The goal is to provide a joy filled and safe environment where children can come to know Jesus. Singing, Bible stories, games, athletics, crafts, and trips out are what is done. The cultivation of caring friendships is what helps to bind it all together. Monies to underwrite the cost of Camp Faith have to be raised annually. They flow from a wide community of generous supporters in the region and the diocese. The daily breakfasts and lunches are provided through a program of the State of new Jersey. Camp Faith normally runs five days a week in the five weeks following the first Monday after the Fourth of July.
It is painfully obvious in Camden that some people lack very simple, basic necessities like food. Since the early 1980’s St Paul’s has provided a food pantry. Each Friday morning a supplemental food bag is given to all on a “first come, first served” basis. This usually happens between 8.00 and 9.00 a.m. Approximately 120 bags are given out each week. The program is currently managed by volunteers from Grace Church, Haddonfield. They buy the food - much of it from the Food Bank of Southern New Jersey - they prepare the bags, and they distribute it.
In the year that the Sunday breakfast began as a work of St Paul’s young people, Canon Bruce Weatherly, the then Rector of Trinity Church, Moorestown, hosted a meeting of concerned Christians from the all the parishes surrounding Camden. From that meeting grew the organization known as Project Interaction, which has become a major support for all that the congregation of St Paul’s does. Each Sunday, core Interaction members recruit others to help serve breakfast or supper. They are committed to fund raising to support St Paul’s outreach ministries. In 2009 they raised $30,000 to buy the brand new church van which was so instrumental in the summer camp program. The result of year’s of working together - interaction - has been the very happy relationships which have developed between city and suburban Christians. Most who are involved feel that they have been blessed.
Rutgers Camden School of Nursing has partnered with St. Paul’s to provide medical care and screenings for our homeless guests. Our guests can be checked for high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions, while the nursing students obtain valuable clinical hours attending to the needs of this vulnerable population. Future plans include the training of nurse practitioners to enlarge the scope of practice for the clinic.
Despair has turned many lives in Camden to alcohol and drugs as a means of escape. It is prevalent in the community and easily accessible to the young and vulnerable. At the same time, many who have been there and done that are willing to share their stories of pain and recovery with those still caught in the web. Situated as it is in downtown Camden, St Paul’s provides an ideal place for men and women to gather to support one another in their efforts to raise themselves up. St Paul’s congregation is happy to host a variety of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups, which meet seven days a week and sometimes several times a day. Members of these groups - though not always worshiping members at St Paul’s - are nevertheless part of the St Paul’s family.