Jerry Davich: ‘Feeding the Flock’ feeds souls as well as the hungry
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org September 25, 2012 4:20PM
Pastor Christopher Anderson chats with Evelyn Martin during a Feeding the Flock meal at First Presbyterian Church in Merrillville Wednesday Sept. 19, 2012. Anderson is pastor at the House of Prayer Evangelistic Christian Center in Merrillville. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
How to help
For more info, or to help the cause, call First Presbyterian Church of Merrillville at 736-0707 or visit http://fpcmerrillville.com/.
Updated: October 27, 2012 6:18AM
‘Feeding the Flock” may be named after a church cookbook, but it also is the recipe for a remarkable soup kitchen program in our own back yard.
What makes it so unique is that it’s a partnership of a dozen churches that are as different as could be — culturally, ethnically and theologically — yet all working for a common good: to feed the hungry in Northwest Indiana.
“We have no soup kitchen in Merrillville so we wanted to offer those in need at least one meal a week,” said lead coordinator Carolyn Meinbresse. “We have been so blessed with this ministry. I have never had to beg for help or volunteers or food items.”
Feeding the Flock started in July 2011, with only 16 hungry guests, but it has since served more than 4,000 meals at First Presbyterian Church of Merrillville. That church (7898 Taft St., just north of U.S. 30) is the host site for the program from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday
“The program just keeps growing,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. William Hudson. “It’s working even better than we initially thought.”
The joint-effort program averages 140 guests each Saturday, many of them frequent fliers and familiar faces who come not only for the meal, but for the camaraderie. Here, it’s all about feeding souls, not spoon-feeding religious ideologies.
“Feeding the Flock is not only free of charge, but free of religious or any other messages as well,” a recent church newsletter states.
The genesis for the idea came from an organization called Congregations of Merrillville, whose mission is “No one congregation can provide the needs of our community.”
It doesn’t matter that the various churches include traditional Protestant and Catholic churches as well as independent congregations, or charismatic and non-denominational congregations.
“We aren’t doing it by ourselves, but in a wonderful partnership with other people of faith,” explained First Presbyterian Church member and volunteer David Allen. “That’s part of the beauty of Feeding the Flock — the diversity of the congregations that take joy in the collaboration that takes place in our dining room every Saturday.”
Rev. Hudson added, “It’s more than feeding hunger. It’s about feeding the community by connecting people with each other.”
‘This is a blessing’
On the day I visited, last Saturday, the meal was comprised of homemade meatloaf and chili, tossed salad, cornbread, desserts, and soft drinks or coffee.
“It’s totally free of charge,” Meinbresse told me after taking off her plastic gloves to shake my hand. “Two ladies recently pulled me aside to tell me, ‘This is the highlight of our week.’ ”
One guest, an older lady, felt so compelled to give something back to the program she offered Hudson $2 and a few Steak-n-Shake coupons. He politely declined.
Credit goes to all dozen churches, all but one located in Merrillville, listed here alphabetically:
Christ the Cornerstone Lutheran Church; Dyer Presbyterian Church; First Presbyterian Church of Merrillville; House of Prayer; Isaiah 61 Ministries; Living Grace Church of the Nazarene; Living Word Christian Center; Our Lady of Consolation Roman Catholic Church; Peace United Church of Christ; St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church; Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church; and Unity AME Zion Church.
Each church offers sign-up sheets during its scheduled week of food service, and parishioners typically offer their time, services and menu items. The duties for this Saturday, Sept. 29, fall to Living Grace Church of the Nazarene.
Funding comes primarily from the churches and their members, but the program has received grants from the Anderson Foundation and United Church of Christ.
“There is never a lack of good food or cheerful volunteers,” said Hudson, noting that new church partners are always welcome (hint, hint).
Are there any conflicts, rivalries or issues among the churches? Zero. Zip. Nada, I’m told. The program has even changed how the participating churches now work together beyond Feeding the Flock, he happily noted.
“There’s no competition at all,” Hudson said.
Each Saturday, the hosting responsibilities are rotated to a different church crew, who supply the program with its menu options, drinks and volunteers. There also is a weekly need for donated items, such as paper products, plastic cutlery, food items or more volunteers (hint, hint again).
“Everyone who participates gives freely, but they say they take away more than they give,” Hudson said.
Allen said, “House of Prayer even brings a jazz trio to pair the joy of music with its meal.”
Last Wednesday evening, the program celebrated its first anniversary with volunteers and food from all of the congregations. Scheduling the event in the middle of the week was done on purpose by the Congregations of Merrillville to see whether there’s a need in the community.
Obviously, hunger is not just a weekend problem or one that only emerges around the holidays, contrary to popular belief.
“We were packed with hungry guests, and many of them were new to our program,” Meinbresse said proudly.
Often there’s a waiting line to get inside each Saturday so I suggest, if you’re a newcomer, to arrive after noon. When I arrived last Saturday, around 1 p.m., the site was just starting to clear up.
I talked to a married couple with young children who were told about the program from their pastor. The husband is unemployed, the wife on disability, and feeding their flock is a daily challenge.
“This is a blessing for us each Saturday,” the wife told me. “It gives us hope that others care about our situation.”
The wonderful thing about the program, a common by-product with most soup kitchens, is best explained by Meinbresse: “We’re more blessed when we leave here than they are.”
Listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show each Friday at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.