By Marv Kohlbeck
The sign at the Pittsville United Church of Christ stated, “COMMUNITY MEAL-COME & JOIN US.”
Passersby have seen this same invitation posted on the church marquee for eight or nine months each year for nearly 10 years. This community event grew out of a challenge statement issued by a previous pastor when she asked the church group, “What can we do to reach out to our community in ways other than church services and youth education?”
The core group of Georgia Winters, Deb Wolf, and Judy Papke was instrumental in conceiving the idea for providing a Saturday evening meal once a month to anyone in the community, no matter their financial or religious status.
After a recent St. Patrick’s Day recognition of a corned beef and cabbage meal that served 130 patrons, the thought crossed my mind that I should get the message out to other communities that may want to try the same approach of generating community unity and spirit.
Winters, Wolf, Papke, and other volunteers have prepared varied menus for each public meal date. Baum’s Foods supports the monthly event by providing discounts or direct donations of foods. Other volunteers, some not even members of the church, come forward to help wherever needed. Youth volunteers also pitch in to help.
Winters, spokeswoman for the founding group, said, “It’s such a pleasure working with volunteers who find their niche and willingly work with others. I have made new friends and have felt very touched by the many people that have come to the meals and come back in followup months to ‘break bread’ with us and share their evening mealtime with others. We even provide carry-outs for those who make arrangements to have meals picked up for those unable to attend due to health reasons or lack transportation.”
Winters went on to say, “Even though it is held in our church and is an extension of the church reaching out to the community, people of all denominations, or none at all, are welcome. We are not here to preach to anyone.”
The community has responded in a positive manner. The first public meal was attended by approximately 35, has gone as high as 140, but usually averages around 100 being served. The full meal also includes milk or coffee and dessert.
The committee has found that those who donate toward the meal provide more than enough to cover the next meal and on occasions generate enough to make sizable donations to the local food pantry.
“If you are hungry, sick of cooking, or just need the company of friends and a nice meal, please come and join us,” Winters said. “It’s not a fundraiser. It’s a ‘friend- or fun-raiser.’”