Welcoming the stranger and the friend

First Presbyterian Church offers free meals, showers, assistance

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ In the past 10 days, the First Presbyterian Church has served 2,342 hot, full dinners. The meals are made possible through donations, including monetary and supplies, given by local and state entities. A total of 60 volunteers have assisted in the meal preparations, with the dinner served nightly from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Pictured is Cindy Mack, left, with her granddaughter Makena Jones, helping Lavonne Watkins prepare biscuits for the meal.

Members of First Presbyterian Church, 101 S. Center St., believe in living out their mission of serving others. After the July 19 tornado, a group of congregants met to discuss ways in which the church could best aid those impacted by the storm.

“We had the meeting that Saturday morning (July 21) at 11 a.m., and by 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, we were making food,” coordinator Lavonne Watkins said. “We just had a few ladies that brought in casseroles, and by Sunday afternoon, we were already getting donations.”

Watkins said the church wanted to serve a full, hot dinner each night, to ensure folks had at least one filling meal a day.

“We knew other (groups) were offering cold sandwiches, and we wanted to offer a hot meal — for some people it’s the only hot meal they get in a day,” she said. “We’ve made mac n’cheese, oven-baked chicken, roast beef, tacos — and all the fixings, plus desserts. In 10 days, we served 2,342 meals. These were full, hot dinners.”

The dinners, which are free and open to the public, have been held daily ever since, offered from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The meals are made possible through donations, including monetary and supplies, given by local and state entities. A total of 60 volunteers have assisted in the meal preparations. Watkins said nightly attendance averages 200 people, with the record set at 325 for one evening. She said hearing the stories of the folks who have struggled with the fallout from the tornado has been eye-opening.

Lee Wilkinson, a church member, has been volunteering in the kitchen.

“I do it in large part because there was a clear need; so many people were without power and electricity, eating cold soup out of a can,” he said. “So many people tell us they wouldn’t know what they would do without us. We’re called to do this.”

In addition to serving a free dinner, people may use the church’s shower facilities, anytime between 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free moving boxes are also available. In the Gathering Place, a blue building attached to the church, folks can take home a bag filled with free supplies, including canned goods, paper products and hygienic products.

In addition, anyone may ask the church for assistance in helping them clean up their property, by simply phoning the church at: 641-753-5929.

“We’re not asking for a thing. We’re here to serve, and will until there is no longer a need,” Watkins said.

——

Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com