Two goals drive volunteers who gather inside the First Presbyterian Church of Allegan each Wednesday morning to prepare the Community Lunch. “We focus on feeding anyone who is hungry and walks into our church,” Rev. Karen Fitz La Barge said. “And we strive to create a warm atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.”
Between 60 and 90 people come between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. each week to enjoy assorted soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, La Barge said. Each meal is prepared by about 12 volunteers under the direction of lunch coordinator Alex Steward. Steward, who accepted the coordinator job in September, also is part-time pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Allegan. “Serving as the lunch coordinator provides me with a great opportunity to meet other people in our community and to serve those in need,” Steward said.
Numerous people attend the lunch because they don’t have enough food at home, La Barge said. But both she and Steward noted that many other people come to the lunch seeking human interaction and companionship in an environment where differing abilities and circumstances are embraced.
Every week, she and other trained volunteers spend time listening to people. Some people come seeking guidance or information about various support services and other community programs in the area. “And there are always people engaging in conversations and enjoying each other’s company,” Steward said. “Some of guests come just so they don’t have to yet another meal alone.”
La Barge said the Community Lunch grew from a Lenten lunch program the congregation held in 2011. “Our congregation decided to continue offering the meals,” she said. “And since then, attendance has grown steadily and the meal is now an essential part of the food distribution network in Allegan.”
Hosting the weekly lunch would cost more than $50,000 each year if all the food and serving supplies had to be purchased, La Barge said. Thankfully, she said, various community groups and individuals — like Junior Harrington who makes the deviled eggs and Ed Whitney who makes homemade bean soup each week — routinely donate food supplies. Grants from groups like the Allegan County Community Foundation help cover purchase paper products and licenses needed to operate the kitchen.
Congregation members and community volunteers keep the ministry running smoothly even as they explore ways that the Community Lunch program can meet additional needs in the area, Steward said. “This is definitely a well-operated ministry helping to make life in Allegan a bit better for folks,” Steward said.
~ submitted by First Presbyterian Church of Allegan