LCEF News

A Dignified Dinner for Those Who Need It Most

May 4, 2018 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

Editor’s Note:

To celebrate the announcement of the 2018 Kaleidoscope Fund grant recipients, we are sharing the 2017 recipient’s stories over the next two months. See all 2017 stories here as they are published.

-LCEF Editorial Team

For a large community dinner like the one Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., puts on every Thursday, you would be surprised to learn that anyone would ever sit alone. But they are out there. Singles, divorcees, widows, widowers, mentally handicapped and the financially strapped.

For this reason, Rev. James Gomez, senior pastor of Prince of Peace, says that a few of the volunteers will go through the buffet line last as to make sure no one sits alone. Gomez stressed this was not a soup kitchen. “We can feed the people, but we also have to talk with them. This can be very intimate,” he said.

There are a lot of intimate opportunities for an event that feeds over 3,000 meals a year. One woman who lost her husband finally came after multiple invitations and said she didn’t know why she didn’t come sooner.

Gomez said they wanted to make sure “the Community Dinner is welcoming and open to people in the neighborhood. We tell jokes and have conversations” around a meal, he said. “We have police officers, blue collars, lawyers, retired people and we have the almost homeless.” And some, he explained, don’t have any family connections and are just looking for community.

A community of volunteers

Dinner starts at 5:30 with a prayer, announcements, dinner explanation and joke. The main dinner time ends at 6:15, but people are known to hang around until 6:45 or even later. Other families come early, enjoying the atmosphere as children play and mothers knit.

While an event this size, feeding upwards of 80 people a week, takes a lot of work, it’s all done by volunteers. And not all volunteers are members of the church.

“We have about 35 people serve from prep to clean up to preparing desserts,” Gomez said. Volunteers include Prince of Peace members, but also members of the Catholic parish; three to five youth from the local high school; and two men on probation working off service hours.

The star of this volunteer show, however, has to be the chef.

  

Four years ago the weekly dinner started small with canned goods, hot dogs and dishes of macaroni and cheese. That all changed when Michael Bein came on board three years ago. Since his arrival, the weekly dinner has grown into a delightful and thoughtful home-cooked meal. In fact, he has not repeated a meal for over six months.

All the ingredients for the meals are fresh, nothing frozen. For Bein, the Thursday meal starts on Wednesday morning where he begins to piece together the menu by going through ads, checking what is in season and on sale. Around holidays, Bein chooses ingredients to honor that day. For example, the church served corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. A former restaurant chef, Bein has the experience to feed such a large group.

Prince of Peace always sends out an invitation on Facebook each week, asking people to RSVP. The reason is so they have enough food. “Only one time when we didn’t have enough food,” Gomez said, “when a family showed up about 20 minutes after we got started.” Outside of that, news of the community dinner spreads by word of mouth.

Feeding even more

As the popularity of the Thursday dinner grew, Prince of Peace wanted to extend it out to others, such as first responders who sacrifice family time to meet the needs of others. So, on one occasion, the church took leftovers to the local ambulance service providers, who were glad to receive such gifts. Another time the church cooked and offered breakfast to all the local first responders. It was a two-hour event attended by 50 to 60 first responders.

And because of the community of volunteers, the chef thinks the church could do even more. “A cooking class of some kind,” Gomez said, “where they make fresh salsa … we develop a cooking club, invite eight families in and they prepare 10 to 15 healthy meals together and freeze them.”

Of course, all this requires money. Not to worry. As recipients of a 2017 Kaleidoscope Fund grant, Prince of Peace will be able to continue their bold work of love for the Sturgeon Bay community–and extend their ministry. Not only will the grant allow the church to absorb the rising food costs of a growing outreach, but it also permitted them to purchase another freezer, refrigerator and warmer.

At the end of the day, the Community Dinner is about one thing: feeding the Lord’s sheep.

“I feel like this is the Church’s responsibility,” Gomez said, “feeding, clothing, we are the ones that can get to know the people. … At the base level we know they need food, we can learn more about their lives.” And it’s this community that has the capacity to meet these needs–both physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. “One government social worker would be overwhelmed by all these needs,” Gomez said, “but we can do this.” And do it joyfully.

It’s this sort of spirit and ministry–where God’s love for all is celebrated with fervor and joy–that the Kaleidoscope Fund was created to support. Join us as we congratulate Prince of Peace for loving on and pray God keeps the flame of faith alive in their hearts through the forgiveness and peace given through Jesus’ precious body and blood.

AUTHOR
Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.