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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Beans and thanks

Neighborhood honors grocer who stocks ethnic foods

For some 8,000 people in a Reading, Pa., neighborhood, Thomas Schleifer is like one of the family. That's because the grocer is more than just the owner of the Buttonwood IGA. He has in the last 26 years dramatically modified the type and brands of food he carries to satisfy the area's rapidly expanding Latino population.

It's his care and attention to the people of Reading that prompted the city's mayor, Tom McMahon, as well as pastors of some 20 area congregations, to honor Schleifer.

"I was surprised one morning at the store by all of these people," said Schleifer, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Robesonia, Pa. My daughter Monika, who works at the store, and my wife, Patricia, helped organize it. I didn't know anything about it."

Schleifer said when he began operating the store in 1979, the neighborhood was about a third white, a third African American and a third Latino. Today, he figures it's 95 percent Latino — from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

"And people from each country seem to have a special tomato sauce or types of beans, sodas and other canned goods that they like," he said. "When customers ask for something, I try my best to find it.

"I don't speak much Spanish, but I try to be as friendly as I can and to help anyone who comes in."

The mayor presented Schleifer with a plaque and a few gifts on behalf of the city in appreciation. "It feels good to know that you are kind of considered a part of your customer's family," Schleifer said.


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