Jeff Pryal, Lizzy Pryal and Judy Bird

Volunteers Jeff Pryal (left), Lizzy Pryal and Judy Bird from the Berlin Brethren Church, 620 Main Street, prepare ham, green beans and potatoes to be cooked later in the week to be distributed to the community on Monday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the church.

BERLIN – A 2017 mission trip to Haiti opened Lizzy Pryal’s eyes to the painful realities of third world suffering, she said.

While delivering food and clothing to an under-equipped pediatric hospital, she saw lines of hospital beds cradling nameless children – many of them dying because medical staff didn’t have oxygen masks to ease their respiratory issues.

“It was devastating,” Pryal said. “And that trip convinced me that I wanted to spend my life helping people.”

Today, the 20-year-old college student is doing that in her hometown – responding to local needs due to a pandemic Pryal said she could never have imagined here.

Back at home because Greensburg-based Seton Hill closed its campus, the second-year physician’s assistant student is helping a team of Berlin Brethren Church volunteers prepare, package and deliver 400 homestyle meals for community residents.

Many are delivered to home-bound residents – in many cases, out-of-work families struggling to get by and retirees unable to cook for themselves, mission organizer Judy Bird said.

“We originally started this 14 years ago to provide food and fellowship to people who are alone and don’t have anyone to eat with – to show them God cares and that we care, too,” Bird said. “But when this crazy corona thing came up and we started seeing people stuck indoors by themselves or laid off, we realized we needed to do more.”

Rather than monthly, hot meals are now delivered every week, she said.

A group of as many as 25 church volunteers spend their Mondays preparing meals such as Swedish meatballs or spaghetti with meat sauce, packaging them up with sides and homemade desserts and handing them out for pickup or delivery.

Pryal has been a major part of it, Bird said.

She’s also served as an inspiration to young members of the church, she said

“Lizzy has a heart for people. It’s so impressive to see that because at her age, a lot of people don’t want to be bothered,” Bird added.

Pryal is the daughter of Kristie and Jeffrey Pryal, a Navy veteran.

Growing up in a military family, Pryal said she’s learned about the importance of being resilient during tough times – and stepping up to help when someone needs it.

Her parents have also been volunteering, she said.

“As a child with a father in the military, I have experienced times where things and events change on a dime without ever knowing when life will return to normal,” Pryal wrote to the nonprofit ThanksUSA over the past month.

The Washington, D.C.,-based organization awards $3,000 scholarships to students from military families each year – Pryal’s included. And Thalia Assuras, a spokeswoman for the organization said the Berlin woman has shown by example why young adults like her are worth investing in.

The Seton Hill sophomore has carved out time to help while taking online classes the same day.

“On, Monday, I was packaging food with headphones on, listening to one of my lessons,” Pryal said with a laugh.

Bird described Pryal as a leader.

Five teenagers have joined in the meal program to help in recent weeks.

“I think that says a lot for Lizzy’s example,” Bird said.

Pryal said she’s just trying to bring a little joy during these challenging times.

“Two weeks ago when we were dropping off meals at Berlin Manor, people were waiting at the door for us to arrive,” she said.

At the church’s pickup location, recipients are often smiling as they drive away with a hot meal.

“It’s good to see that,” she said. “Because sometimes smiles are hard to come by right now.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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