>> Wednesday, April 11, 2012
GEORGETOWN – An idea that was born out of a desire to share leftovers has become a long-standing tradition at Georgetown United Methodist Church in Brown County.
“When I moved out here from the city, I noticed that we were having church dinners at least once a month for one reason or another,” said Barry Horstmeier, a member of GUMC. “It was a nice experience because we’d never had church dinners at my previous church. I also noticed that we always had food left over and I suggested to the pastor that we put a sign out front to invite others to join us.”
At first, Horstmeier’s suggestion wasn’t taken seriously, but he didn’t give up on the idea and finally the pastor agreed, but said that they should serve the meal on the last Saturday of each month because many folks run out of funds at the end of the month. He also suggested that they serve the meal at lunch time.
In January 2006 the church served their first free community lunch.
“We had about 25 to 30 people come when we first started,” said Nancy Miller. “There were just a few of us then who did all the work. I think there were about 12 of us.”
Current pastor Reverend Zedda Myers says that she is proud of her congregation.
“The fact that the program has gone on so long makes me proud to be part of this church,” Myers said. “It takes a lot of commitment on behalf of the people to continue this type of outreach.”
With a core group of 22 people helping, the church now serves an average of 75 meals each month.
“Our core group meets once a year to decide the menus for the coming year,” said Myers. “We have sign-up sheets available for members of the congregation which include everything from setting the tables to cleaning up afterward and preparing baked goods.”
The menus are simple meals geared to serving large crowds, such as turkey and noodles served over biscuits; lasagna, salad and garlic bread; sloppy Joes and cole slaw; and chili soup and crackers.
According to Myers, 40 to 50 percent of the congregation is involved in one way or another.
“We now have enough folks helping that no one has to stay all day and go home totally exhausted,” said Myer. “If someone can only help with set-up, then that’s what they do and if someone has to leave early, they know that they can.”
Miller noted that the volunteers have been working together so long that they know all the different jobs, and just do whatever needs to be done.
The church kitchen isn’t equipped to do all the food preparation on site, but there are two dedicated people who coordinate all the food preparation once it arrives at the church from the donors.
Those who come to the monthly lunches are treated as guests.
“Our tables are set with real silverware and we serve the plates to the people who come,” said Janet “Flossie” McElroy. “A drink table is set up so they can serve themselves, but we bring everything else to them.”
Although the tough economic times have brought many folks to the meal, it seems to be the fellowship that keeps them coming back.
“We have a nice cross-section of people who come,” said Myers. “There are groups of seniors who enjoy the social time with their friends and many folks who live alone just want to visit with other people. The news of this meal has spread by word-of-mouth and it has truly turned into a community event.”
Church members also say that they were the first church in the area to offer free community meals.
“Since we’ve had so much success with our lunch, we’ve noticed that a lot of other churches around here have started doing the same thing,” said Miller. “But we were the first to do it.”
Each year the group serves a full-course Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day.
“There are a lot of people who have no family and we provide a meal and fellowship for them on Thanksgiving Day,” said Miller. “Many of us have changed our own family Thanksgiving meals to the weekend before or after the holiday so that we can be here to serve. Our families understand how important this is to us.”
Horstmeier commented about the importance of having the pastor available during the meal.
“Having Rev. Myers here serving as a hostess is a real benefit,” he said. “Many of the people who come here have problems in their life and it gives them a chance to talk to her.”
“I enjoy going around to visit with everyone when they come and always introduce myself as the pastor of the church,” said Myers. “I’ve had many people ask for prayer and many who just need to talk about things going on in their lives. It’s a good opportunity to share the love of God. We’ve noticed that often the people who come want to help in some way and often they ask for recipes.”
The church also offers a food and toiletries pantry which is open twice a month.
“Whenever someone comes to the pantry I let them know about the community lunch and many times they will come just because I invited them,” said Myers.
Funding for the meal comes from donations and the mission giving of the congregation.
“The community lunch is one way that I’ve found to keep the people of the church focused,” said Myers. “We’ve found our focus through the pantry and serving the lunches and we’re sticking with it.”
Leftovers? Yes, some months there is enough food to send home with those who dine last.
Marsha Mundy is News Editor for the News Democrat in Georgetown.