“If sometimes people have had to die of starvation, it is not because God didn’t care for them, but because you and I were not instruments of love in the hands of God, to give them bread, because we did not recognize Him, when once more the hungry Christ came in distressing disguise.”–Mother Teresa
An early idea of a community dinner came from the Presbyterians in 2007. “Would St. George’s would be interested in providing dinner for 40–70 homeless and indigent persons on the fourth Saturday of every month. The Presbyterian Church and two other churches plan to cover the other three Saturdays”
The community dinner as it developed in 2009 originated from Micah. a community-wide initiative to provide a hot meal every night of the week for anyone who needs it.
The community dinner was part of several activities in working with Micah Ministries that year. The newsletter wrote that “About 45 St. Georgians are currently involved in some aspect of sandwich making, lunch bag packing, welcoming at the cold night shelter, or helping at the Micah Center. “
Before the community dinners could begin the ground-work had to be prepared. Linda Harris was an early coordinator at a table in the Narthex recruiting volunteers to help with setting the tables, serving the meals, or cleaning up. She was instrumental in updating the kitchen with donations. Changes to the kitchen involved large sink next to the dishwasher with its sprayer faucet. “A cabinet was shifted over and a gasket installed over the trashcan that will stay under the counter and out of the way. Food could be scrapped directly into the trash and the dishes rinsed with the new high-powered sprayer before they go in the dishwasher to be sanitized. Wall cabinets, straining with the weight of our dishes and pulling away from the wall, were reinforced.”
Carole Fariss of the Kitchen Works, Inc. on Lafayette Blvd. donated her time to design the layout, coordinate the construction, and oversee the completion of the work so that the kitchen could be ready for the beginning of the Community Dinners.
Up to 3 churches would divide the responsibilities of serving food at St. George’s- St Mary’s took taking the first Monday and fifth, Ferry Farm the 2nd, and St. George’s the third and fourth Monday. St. George’s only would be cooking on the 3rd Monday and relay on donated prepared/cooked food for the 4th.
The newsletter wrote about the first dinner. “The very first St. George’s Community Dinner took place on Monday September 21st. Approximately 50 guests were served a warm and nourishing dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes and friendship. The St. George’s volunteers greeted, served, cooked, cleaned and visited and all felt the night was a great success. Tami Morello was the coordinator for St. George’s.” Later in the year, the community dinner effort fit in with another Micah endeavor – the cold weather shelter. The shelter would be open from November to March when the temperature falls below 32 degrees.
There was a spiritual component to this effort “. We also take the opportunity to break bread with our guests and share in a true meaning of community.” “Dedicated volunteers will be utilized because our guests will be invited to sit down at tables set with silver ware and their dinners will be brought to them on real plates, not disposable ones.”
Funding was helped by $5,000 grant in early 2010. The onset of the community dinners was one event along with the Table that led to the upgrade of the kitchen in 2013
The community dinner ministry ended another feeding ministry, St. George’s soup kitchen which began in 2004. The community sinner could serve many more people than the soup kitchen.
Jan Saylor, the Youth Director and Outreach Coordinator of St. George’s in 2004, got the idea for the soup kitchen from a woman in the community who ran a mobile soup kitchen. The youth of St. George’s played a large part in getting the soup kitchen up and running, too. They made bagged lunches and tried out interesting recipes that went to the Homeless Shelter the second Wednesday of every month. The St. George’s bus was used to take the food to them
From a November, 2009 newsletter article. From Wendy Gayle – “The folks we served took on faces and identities and I often saw them around town. I remember talking to one woman who told me her story. She and her husband had health problems and lost their jobs and then lost their home. They were not drug addicts or alcoholics. What happened to them could happen to any one of us. Kit agreed, saying, “While we did serve the homeless, not everyone who came was. We realized that the people we were feeding weren’t much different then we are, just not as fortunate.”
By June 2010, the dinner was feeding a total of 300 on the last two Mondays of the month. The dinners also helped support another program, “Food for Life” which provided a box of food and goodies monthly to seniors living below the poverty line. Two volunteers picked up the boxes monthly from the Food Bank and a volunteer runs and interacts with the recipients
The Community Dinners were established before the Table in 2012. The Food Pantry saw 30% increase in bags given out over the last two years. They noted the church has helped 499 households, 786 children aged 0-18 and 957 folks ages 19-64
The community dinners attracted other groups, the Muslims, St. George’s “Brotherhood of St. Andrew” to sponsor a dinner.
By 2011, it was noted that more families were attending.
Churches participating in the dinners held meetings to talk ideas and voice concerns. There were Fredericksburg United Method, The Presbyterian Church, Fredericksburg Baptist, Shiloh New Site, Christ Lutheran
In 2013, churches reported an increase in the number of clients. From a meeting between the churches “Fredericksburg Baptist reports serving over 200 dinners and Christ Lutheran (via an email) reports serving 275 meals during one week – 100 higher than they have ever served. In 2012, Christ Lutheran served a total of 6,800 meals (this includes all participating churches on Wed. night meals). Both Shiloh Baptist (New Site) and St. George’s Episcopal reported higher numbers as well.
“Fredericksburg Methodist reports that they serve the same meal (meatloaf) every time so they can stay within their budget of about $300 per month. St. George’s Episcopal estimates the cost of one meal to be about $300 as well.”
There were reports of rowdiness and an occasional fracus. Plans are being made in 2013 to involve the community police officer in patrolling near the premises during the dinners
The Community Dinner encouraged related ways of fellowship. The Catholic church would have a volunteer to assist people in registering for VA benefits that they might be due. Doug Richardson reported they open the doors at 3 pm for the setup crew and allow guests to come in as well to be seated and have coffee. He shows movies and DVDs on a large screen TV and that has also been very well received. Micah would share their resources for housing.
The dinner was the largest ministry at the time and required substantial coordination and volunteer participation
Linda Carter, (shown in the middle), as the head of the enterprise in 2016, described what she did:
- Schedule outside groups in to do dinners. Guest chefs are great, but generally a lot more supervision & help needed (Munira is an exception),
- Find cooks to prepare food where needed. Kim has been great about handling the 3rd Monday when it doesn’t include guest chefs. Her time at school can conflict with cooking. When that happens, she has generally shopped for all the groceries & prepared the casseroles ahead of time so that they only need to be popped in the oven.
- 4th Monday – I do menu & Karin puts out the requests. Casseroles are generally easier to get people to make. Desserts not so much. By Sat or Sun, I get a count from Karin as to who is doing what & shop for whatever is still needed. Some gets ordered from Schencks thru Jan. Rest gets purchased at Costco, Walmart or Wegmans depending on best price. We use Produce Source or Flores when possible.
- I purchase supplies. Always a challenge because things get “borrowed” or misplaced. Hard to keep up with the inventory.
- Day of the dinner means being there in time to get food cooked, salads made, desserts cut. I’m generally in by 2 to get a head start on setting up & keeping Tom’s crew from doing too much on the setup end! They’ve been great in the kitchen prepping. Brenda is back & helpful.
- There are a number who are capable of handling the food flow so that dishes get replenished. The Hoopers, Sandra Swift-Murray, Zee, Eleonore, Dean.
The community dinner is an exercise in planning for 25+ people. This was a description of the volunteer requirements in 2015
Volunteer Opportunities at St. George’s in the Feeding Ministry
3rd & 4th Monday Community Dinners – Dinner is served 5-6:30PM
4 to 5 cooks if preparing dinner in church kitchen 2 – 5PM
4 to set up (tables & chairs will be up already) 3:30 – 4:30PM
10 to 15 to serve/bus tables 4:30 – 6:30PM
2 to 4 to wash dishes/pots 5 – 7PM
4 to 6 cleanup 6 – 7PM
The above numbers are for total # of people preparing a dinner. We will provide seasoned volunteers to help with each area. We just need to know how many volunteers are coming in & what they want to do. We serve 120 to 140 people about 220 plates of food. Aim for $300/meal. We can provide recipes, quantities & specific dietary considerations upon request.
Much was done online. weekly meal calendar. Google calendar was used to gather menus. Email was used to coordinate volunteers
Volunteers had to be trained in food service. There were site specific instructions (location of phone, electric box, how to use equipment, etc. A set of common guidelines regarding dos and don’ts, how to handle situations, services available, ways to be hospitable, etc.
The community dinner with the Table became not only major Outreach projects after 2009 but also were magnets for related groups to get involved in the church as well as ways to provide information about benefits and other community initiatives.
The Community Dinner ministry uniquely may have attracted the widest age group span between youth and the retired to participate. It also attracted several other small groups at St. George’s to take over a dinner for a Monday. It was a spur to interfaith development as Muslim groups under Munira Marlowe participated in several months.