Wednesday Night Community Meals – 13 years and counting of serving
Appreciation dinner to be held Monday, February 7
By ARIANA R. CHERRY
It is amazing that what began 13 years ago as the Arthur United Methodist Church Senior High Youth and their families having dinner with each other has become such a mission of feeding hungry families – whether that be a physical hunger or a spiritual one. Wednesday Night Community Meals provides not only just food for families – but a way for members of our community to spread Christ’s love to those in need. While the meals do indeed feed those who are hungry, it also provides some social time for those who might be lonely, a way for people to bond and grow through Christ’s love and also a way to teach young people how to serve people in their community. Thirteen years later, there’s still a need and the ministry keeps on serving every week.
Even during a world-wide pandemic and our third year into it, Community Meals continues to serve. “The number of people partaking in meals has switched before and after Covid. There were more people dining in-house before Covid and after Covid, we have served more to-go meals. The number of people volunteering to help has stayed fairly constant. The Lord provides!” stated Arlone Doan, who is the head cook on Wednesday nights. Doan is one of those who has been with Community Meals from the beginning. “I started as a helper when I was still teaching and then a few years ago I was asked to become head cook. I feel the title is in name only, because it takes a village to make up this Wednesday Community meals crew,” she said. Through the 13 years of serving, Doan notes that she believes many of the volunteers have gained forever friends throughout the process of serving together.
Pastor Jill Bunker who is the current pastor at the Arthur United Methodist Church, has noticed a few changes throughout the pandemic during Wednesday nights at Community Meals. “I have noticed that there is more pick-up and delivery rather than dining in. This of course is due to the pandemic, however, gradually people are starting to return to in-person dining,” she said. Although – Bunker does have hope and prays that things will change with time. “I hope to see more and more people come back to in-door dining. I see the future of Community
Meals growing as more people continue to be affected by the pandemic,” she stated. Presently, Bunker fills in on Wednesday nights where she is needed the most. “ I sometimes do dishes, sometimes I make deliveries, I often fellowship with those who come in to dine. I will help wherever the need is greatest,” she commented.
Reverend Leroy Allison is another who has been with Wednesday Night Community Meals from the start. He was actually the pastor at AUMC when the idea was born. Allison shared some of the ways he has seen meals grow from the beginning to what it is today.
“When Community Meals started, “there was interaction with the Senior High Youth group, which provided greeters and servers and bussed the tables. After the first year or two, that interaction waned and more people from other churches became involved. The numbers were small at first, on a good week, we might serve 50-75 meals (including the youth group). As I recall, there have been many times when we served well over 350 meals on a given night. The first seven to eight years, meals were prepared in the basement kitchen and we relied heavily on roasters for cooking and serving large quantities. “Breakfast for Dinner” (pancakes and sausage) was always a popular meal. The move to the new fellowship hall and kitchen made preparing, serving and cleaning up much easier. We have been blessed by support from the greater community: volunteers who help cook, serve and clean up; those who bring in baked goods for desserts; donations from local businesses; and the generosity of those who support financially. We have had several young people from the schools who have come and helped on a regular basis. The Arthur IGA has always worked with us in planning and in making sure supplies are available,” he shared. Allison has also noticed that the participation of indoor dining has waned during the years of the pandemic, but has hope to see it come back once again. “While we have resumed inside dining, the numbers have not rebounded. I find this sad, because the meal provides a safe and welcoming place to enjoy a meal in the company of others. My hope is that we continue to serve in the name of Christ to help meet human needs as we are best able. I have often been asked how long we would keep this up and my answer has never changed: “As long as the need exists, volunteers step up to help and the funds remain available, I see no need to stop,” Allison said.
Bruce Weiman is another one who is very familiar with Wednesday Night Meals, as he retired as pastor from AUMC at the end of June 2020. Like everyone else, he too noticed the frustrations that Community Meals has had during the pandemic – especially in the earlier days. “Like everyone else we were frustrated. We were unable to serve our hungry neighbors, and unable to share in fellowship with our regular friends. Both of these were equally important for satisfying both our physical and spiritual hunger. For a community that is eager to serve, losing that outlet for sacrificial giving was heartbreaking,” he commented. In its 13th year of serving though, Weiman does have a vision for Community Meals. “My hope is that we might continue to reach out to new people in need. It has amazed me how many people are not aware of the service we provide, free of charge in Jesus’ name, to any who are hungry. Wednesday nights, come join us for supper. The only condition, the only requirement, is hunger—hunger for food or hunger for company. In addition, we offer an opportunity to serve. If someone is longing to serve, we can fill that hunger as well,” he shared. “There has never been a lack of people dealing with food insecurity. The names and faces may change over the years, but the hungry are still among us, and sometimes they are us,” Weiman added. While Weiman is retired now, on occasion, the volunteers have asked him to help grill out during the warmer weather.
Through all of the years of the volunteers who serve, they are always happy to see their old friends return to help out – as well as those who used to come dine as well. Even if it has been awhile that you have volunteered or had dinner, you are always welcome to come back. For those who would like to return and share in their stories – whether it be in appreciation or hope, there will be an appreciation dinner held for anyone who has helped out at Wednesday Night Community Meals in the past 13 years. If you have prayed, volunteered or donated (whether it be monetarily, given food or your time), you are invited to the appreciation dinner to be held on Monday, February 7 at 6:00 pm in the AUMC Fellowship Hall. Wednesday Night Community Meals wants to show their appreciation to those who have helped make the ministry what it has become today.