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A community center

(Panther Valley Community Center)

comes to fruition thanks to Pastor Jeremy Benack and his wife Vicky.

Panther Valley Community Center

Snuggled in the Panther Creek Valley, between the Nesquehoning and Pisgah ridges, you will find the small, rural borough of Lansford, PA.  Located in Carbon County, Lansford was once a wealthy mining town sitting on rich, anthracite land, and operating a mine from 1855 to 1972.  The only sign of this thriving industry now is its local No. 9 Mine and Museum, where you can take a ride by rail  that travels 1600 feet into the mountain.  There you see the original 700-foot deep mine shaft and a miner’s hospital cut into solid rock, as well as walk the mule-way where workers guided mules between different levels. The exodus of the mining and other impacted businesses has left a struggling town.  Sadly, today the median income is $33,900, which is 77% lower than the national average, making it one of the poorest places to live in America. 

 

Lansford is often overlooked and plays second fiddle to its more thriving nearby towns, such as Allentown, Bethlehem, and Jim Thorpe.  But what those towns don’t have that Lansford does have is Pastor Jeremy Benack, who has lived in Panther Valley most of his life and is Senior Pastor at the Grace Community Church, which he founded 24 years ago.  Jeremy (as he prefers to be called) is not just a preacher, but also a community leader who welcomes all people into his casual, come-as-you-are, non-denominational church, and cares for his flock well beyond the church’s doors. 

 

Jeremy was born in New Bedford, MA.  After moving from place to place at a young age, the family settled in Panther Valley, where he stayed. Jeremy followed in his father’s footsteps and attended the Philadelphia Biblical College, now known as Cairn University in Langhorne, PA. While there he met his wife Vicky, who obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies and Social Work and then her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Kutztown University.  Vicky now works with adolescents suffering from mental health issues.  Together their sincere compassion for others and the struggles they see within their community became a genuine mission to help. “Grace, that’s what we have. We have a heart for people,” says Jeremy.  “If you wait for somebody else to do it, it is not going to happen. We do not know where the money will come from, but we have faith in God.”

 

Working with Second Harvest of the Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania, Jeremy and Vicky started a food bank in their church, which now routinely serves 150 households or 500 people, and also low-income seniors.  Their drive and ambition to be able to provide funding gave them the idea to open The Gathering Grounds Coffee House Ministry across from the church, which serves as a place of fellowship, study, teaching and gathering for their community.  They also started the Thankful Thrift Store across the street, which fills a void in the downtown business district, as well as  economical goods for the community and funds for the church.  “We are not gaining anything from this, but it’s still so hard to get funding to help people,” says Jeremy.

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After spending most of his life in Lansford, Jeremey always had a vision of a community center.  But most county resources never made it to the less important town of Lansford.  In 2011, the lack of educational resources was so bad that Panther Valley/Lansford school district joined five other districts to sue state leaders calling for adequate and equitable funding.  Lack of resources were everywhere, such as severe lack of building maintenance, large class sizes, and not enough money to hire more teachers, resulting in students performing below the state average.

 

Finally in 2023, Jeremy’s faith and steadfastness paid off.  He learned from Second Harvest that his district’s representative, Susan Wild, might be able to help achieve their vision with money she secured from the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act budget of 2023, which appropriates Community Project Funding for congressional district spending.  Rep. Wild championed funding for 14 projects in her district, PA-07, one of which included $729,000 for the Carbon County Food Pantry and Wraparound Services, now known as the Panther Valley Community Center.  A series of well-timed events gave Jeremy the opportunity for Grace Community to purchase another church building, the former English Congregational church, about a block away, which was the first step in expanding their food bank services.
 

Still reeling from the generous award, Jeremy and Vicky are thrilled to be able to see their vision come to fruition. The newly founded Panther Valley Community Center is a 5-year plan that has already started with the expansion of the food bank services.  Plans to revamp the building are underway.  It’s too early to set exact dates, but keep watching for new services being added, such as a soup kitchen, wellness area with athletic facilities, meeting rooms, computers with internet access, social work services advocating for resources, help with public assistance programs, all free of charge.

 

It’s not often that one encounters such an inspirational, charitable couple with the commitment and determination to help others.  They’ve never given up -- and it finally paid off.

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Contact

Interested in learning more about the resources provided,

to volunteer, or offer assistance, click here.

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