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Souper Day 2020 Goes Virtual
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BETHLEHEM, Pa. (WLVT) - For 29 years, soup has been the main course for a special fundraiser in Bethlehem. Souper Day recognizes the work by New Bethany Ministries, an interfaith nonprofit that helps people in the Lehigh Valley become self-sufficient and live independently.

The annual event has featured a modest meal of soup and bread as a reminder.

"It's humble, and together in this moment, we’re unified," said Sandra Bieber, New Bethany's director of development and communications.

Like many events this year, Souper Day went virtual. Instead of bowls, New Bethany handed out containers of butternut squash soup to sponsors. The typical in-person ceremony was transformed into a video that was streamed online Tuesday afternoon.

Supporters like the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem said the work New Bethany has been doing for 35 years has even more value now.

"The needs are greater, and the vulnerability of focus is really beyond our imagining," said Bishop Kevin Nichols. "People are struggling. People are in need of support, both economic and emotional and physical support, so what New Bethany does each day, every day, for those most in need is really an incredible and extraordinary mission."

"2020 has been a year of craziness. 2020 was so unexpected -- a pandemic and then all the social issues that are happening around us," added Sandy Milien, the diocesan missioner for community engagement. "Our communities are more in need now than ever, not only through food, but also access to mental health...and I think the needs are increasing."

During Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order, Bieber said New Bethany’s frontline staff served 6,000 curbside meals. The nonprofit also partnered with Comfort Suites to get people off the streets and into hotel rooms.

New Bethany hasn’t closed its doors during the pandemic, continuing to offer rental assistance, showers and shelter. The nonprofit has helped 41 on-site households in transitional housing programs. So far, no one in those programs has tested positive for COVID-19.

"[COVID-19] has amplified the amount of individuals that are working poor -- people that are one paycheck away from losing their home, from losing their self-dignity, from losing it all," Bieber said. "New Bethany is standing in the gap for those individuals and helping them and being their advocate."

The virtual ceremony featured the work New Bethany has done in the past year. Lehigh Valley Public Media’s Monica Evans was part of a panel featuring Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez and PPL Corporation's Joanne Raphael, talking about the community’s response to COVID-19 and the plans moving forward. (Lehigh Valley Public Media is a Souper Day supporter.)

Bieber said New Bethany expects to surpass its fundraising goal of $100,000 this year. To learn more about supporting the nonprofit, click HERE.