A Lebanon native recently turned Lebanon business owner witnessed homelessness in the area firsthand and, after a Sunday message, felt inspired to open a free food pantry and lending library in late January.

Chris Beiler, who owns and operates Friendly Family Outlet along with his wife Amy, spoke with LebTown about what goes into building, stocking, and maintaining these community-centered projects and how the community has responded to them so far.

Read More: Grand opening of Friendly Family Outlet, formerly Aguero Family Outlet, this Friday

Chris Beiler was born and raised in the county and reminisced about his childhood, spending time at Boyer Printing, where his grandfather served as vice president, and Penn Corner, which are within walking distance of the now-Friendly Family Outlet.

“It’s really great to be in town and get a sense of just what Lebanon has become and how it’s changed,” Beiler, who lived in the county most of his life and now lives with his family outside the county, said.

“And I’d hear people throughout the years say, tell me, how Lebanon is changing. And they’d say it with kind of a negative connotation. And being here, I see Lebanon has changed. But it’s like anything, you know, change is inevitable. And it’s good.”

One of the catalysts behind the community-centered projects was the interactions that Beiler had as a business owner with members of the community, and specifically, members of the community experiencing homelessness.

“I left my sign out and a snow shovel overnight one time,” Beiler said. “And people would, like, when I even just have it out there while I [am] here, they say, ‘Oh, you got to be careful with that, got to be careful.’ Well, I left it out overnight inadvertently. And this gentleman the next day, he said, ‘Hey, your sign blew out into the street. I brought it in and your shovel. Hopefully everything was there.’ I was like ‘Yep, everything’s there.’

“Lebanon is not this terrible place that some people make it out to be. And that particular gentleman, he did tell me the next day that he was homeless. And I had a conversation with him … just kind of looking for a way to give back a little bit. But it’s not a lot. It’s not enough.”

The Sunday message that inspired Beiler was “about giving back and about sharing our gifts and our blessings. And it just came to me, just had this idea to do this.”

The Lebanon business owner got to work building the structure using wood from his workshop and some materials from Home Depot and finished it in about a week or two.

“And then I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to make it look a little bit like our logo, like the store,” Beiler said. The structure features “multi-colored awning” that coordinates with the colors on the Friendly Family Outlet’s logo.

“From my house, I went through our pantry, grabbed a few items, and asked my kids to get some books together. And we did the initial stocking,” he said. “And I check it out every couple days. And the community has been helping.”

When prompted, Beiler said he would like to see donations of nonperishable, canned goods. “Something that if you’re living out on the streets that you can consume without cooking,” as well as food that can be prepared in a kitchen if people have access to one.

So far, Beiler said people have donated and taken food items, books, even children’s clothing.

“There was a day that it was, the food was completely empty,” he said. “And then my mother, she gave me a box of items, and we restocked it.”

Beiler said he promotes the community-centered projects and requests donations when he does Facebook livestreams for the outlet.

The free food pantry and lending library can be accessed by members of the community 24/7/365, only dependent on supplies. It is situated in “a little alcove” out of the elements near a now-blocked-off entrance to the outlet on Chestnut and South 9th streets.

With the pantry and library making their debut less than a month ago, Beiler said they have not received much feedback, but the conversations they have had about it have all been positive, with some locals expressing interest in donating.

“I definitely want to thank my mother [Janet Haag] for her support. … She’s a very giving person, and she will give all of herself to help out. She’s helped stock it,” Beiler said. He is certain Haag will continue to support the food pantry and the outlet in various ways.

Beiler also mentioned that his wife, their children, and their family have been active and supportive with community-centered projects as well as the outlet. And since its grand opening, the outlet has received positive feedback from the community.

“I’ve had nothing but amazing experiences with customers and the local businesses,” he said. “It’s just been really great.”

“We have consistently felt very well received by the whole community and very accepted into this new role with this store,” Amy Beiler said. “And we’ve had nothing but positive feedback from everyone who’s walked in the door. And that’s a great feeling.”

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Lexi Gonzalez has worked as a reporter with LebTown since 2020. She is a Lancaster native and became acquainted with Lebanon while she earned her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.


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