A desire to provide a nourishing meal to hundreds of hungry people can be difficult to sustain - especially without a kitchen and dining facility.
Yet, every third Saturday of the month, Methodists who started the Community Lunch program 25 years ago never fail to keep their commitment.
The program to provide a free meal to those in need was birthed at Faith United Methodist Church, formerly located on Eighth Avenue.
(Photo for the Mirror by Charlene Adams) Joan Watters, Dick Logan (black shirt) and Sue Lecrone work at the takeout table.
"We started out serving cooked meals to about 75 people," said Joan Watters, program coordinator, "but as time went on the attendance increased to about 100."
Today, volunteers from Wehnwood United Methodist Church, 2511 Juniata Gap Road, and Jaggard First United Methodist Church, 17th Street and Pleasant Valley Boulevard, distribute about 200 lunches monthly in front of City Hall Commons, 1130 13th Ave., said Watters, a member of Wehnwood.
"People are usually there waiting for us," said volunteer server Kathy Coleman of Wehnwood. "We've gotten to know the people and it's fun. It is a way that we are sharing the love of Jesus Christ in the community and reaching out to others."
The two churches have been serving the meals since the closure of several downtown locations. The goal of the program is to provide for those who live in the city, not its outlining area, and is why the meal is not served at Wehnwood or Jaggard First.
Instead, volunteers from both churches meet the third Friday of the month at Wehnwood to prepare the meal which includes a sandwich, a vegetable, a fruit and dessert. Donations of food and money keep the program going.
On the designated Saturday morning, the food is packed then transported by truck to 13th Avenue.
Keeping the program in the city has not always been easy. After about 15 years of Faith providing the ministry by itself, Grace and First United Methodist churches came alongside it in 2003.
The program was more of a luncheon with the three churches taking turns serving the public out of their buildings, said Cheryl Fleck of Wehnwood.
Six years later, Grace United Methodist Church, formerly located on Fourth Street, closed because its small congregation could not handle the building's upkeep. The membership merged with Wehnwood.
Faith and First United Methodist churches continued serving the meals in their fellowship halls. Then Faith closed, but its neighbor, St. Luke's Episcopal Church 806 13th St., volunteered its facility to serve the meals. In 2010, Faith, too, merged with Wehnwood. The next year, First United Methodist, 1208 13th St., merged with Jaggard United Methodist Church.
To keep the program running in the downtown area, the Methodists continued their work at the former First Presbyterian Church, 12th Street and 14th Avenue. At that location, owned by The Nehemiah Project, attendance increased to 120.
When the building was sold about a year ago, the community lunch was forced outside.
"[The program has] survived all these closings and merges because the people who do the work are passionate about it," said Pastor Evelyn Madison of Wehnwood United Methodist Church.
"They clearly see this as their ministry. It goes beyond what church you're a part of, it goes beyond who the pastor is, because it's something that Joan and the ones who do this have a passion for. It's their ministry. They feel called by God to do this and so they keep it going."
Todd Coleman of Wehnwood United Methodist Church said that street program "has doubled our exposure."
"Back in the church we served about 100 meals, now we serve about 200," Coleman said.
"We think everybody has food, that's not necessarily true," Madison said. "So, it's obviously meeting the needs."
"Joan [Watters] and Todd [Coleman] and the people there month after month have actually built a relationship with the people, so if somebody doesn't show up to get a meal, they go looking for them."