Church tends to community need in Oneida area


ONEIDA — Even in the midst of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, people are still coming together to help each other.

As things got serious in New York, people like Pastor Jeff Leahey of Church on the Rock said were working to get prepared for the worst.

“We immediately started having meetings with our pastors and elders to find out how we would respond,” Leahey said, adding that Church on the Rock has had experience during

For many Oneida residents, the work of Leahey and Church on the Rock can’t be overstated. When the flood hit in 2013, members of the Church worked non-stop to provide the people of the Flats with food, clothing, and hygiene products.

“One of the things we learned during the flood was that we needed to focus what we did best for the community,” Leahey said. “That’s our food pantry, our kitchen, and our livestreaming radio show. And that’s where we focused.”

Before the coronavirus/COVID-19 lockdown, Leahey said Church on the Rock would normally hold its food pantry once a week. Now, with people in need more than ever, the food pantry at Church on the Rock has been extended to three days a week.

“We decided to do our lunches takeout style and food pantry on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays,” Leahey said.

One of the new things Church on the Rock is starting is a “drive-by food pantry”, where people pull in and can do everything from their car.

“People can pull in to our parking lot and they don’t even have to get out of their car,” Leahey said. “We do their paperwork at the first door, they pull up to the second door and we load their lunches and boxed food and can go right on.”

Before the lockdown, Church on the Rock had finished an upgrade to their internet radio station, adding a space for band interviews.

“We started streaming our services right out of there with a crew of five to seven people,” Leahey said. “We have a Friday night service and a Sunday morning service online, right out of our studio.”

It has been a challenge for the Church to keep up with all the requests, Leahey said, with the Church delivering to more than 100 families in two days alone.

But Leahey saw something that gave him hope in such a distressing time.

“People were going into their boxes, finding the things they didn’t need, and giving them to one another,” Leahey said. “Instead of hoarding, they were actually sharing. They weren’t asking for more food, they were sharing. We didn’t ask anyone to do that, they just started doing it.”

And people are feeling the effect of the coronavirus/COVID-19 lockdown. According to Leahey, 70% of the people who came in for meals in one day were not in the system.

“It’s a whole new group of people,” Leahey said. “We average, normally, giving 30 to 50 families once a week. There are a lot more people that need help.”

Leahey said on top of the Church’s normal clientele, people who have been affected by the coronavirus/COVID-19 — in one way or another — are coming in as well.

“We’re trying our best to keep up but we’re concerned about next week,” Leahey said. “I couldn’t believe that number, that 70% of the people who came in that day had never been to the pantry before. So that tells us we need to get ready for more.”

People looking to donate to the Church on the Rock’s food pantry are more than welcome to, Leahey said, and things like canned food and microwavable meals are needed. On top of this, bread is highly needed. The Church would normally get large donations of bread but as of lately, those donations have dried up. “Bread, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables are always in need,” he said.

The Church on the Rock did recently receive a donation, out of the blue, around 1000 two-liter bottles of juice. “Food is showing up that we normally wouldn’t get, so that’s a huge blessing,” Leahey said.

Leahey said people need to come together and take care of one another that’s different than before. In the face of stories of people hoarding and emptying shelves, the pastor asked for people to show love and compassion for their neighbors.

“We need to shift from ‘take as much as I can’. We need to think of our next-door neighbor and think about one another,” Leahey said. “I’ve been seeing a lot of that on the northside of Oneida, and that’s great to see people help each other.”

“Crisis brings out the best and worst of people,” he continued. “And honestly, I’m seeing more than the best of people through this.” In the face of the coronavirus, Leahey encouraged people to press on, keep trusting, keep believing, and to not be afraid.

Church on the Rock is located at 164 Madison St. in Oneida.

To learn more about Church on the Rock, how to help or donate, call 315-280-4044 or to visit their Facebook page at or visit their website at

To watch their live services, visit their Facebook or


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