Who says there’s no free lunch? Immanuel United Methodist Church in Edwardsville would disagree. They prepare & serve lunch every Friday for whomever walks in the door. The program was started in 2004 by Floyd Fisher, who suggested offering a free meal once a week, as a service to the hungry, AND a forum for fellowship. Immanuel’s motto is “The Old Church with the New Attitude,” and the congregation was enthusiastic about stepping out in faith to engage the community in this way. Of course, recalls pastor Jackie Havis-Shear, “The big fat question was, Would we be able to afford it?”
They decided to give the program a six-month trial…and over ten years later, it’s still going strong, and has never been in the red.
Volunteers prepare and serve food from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Friday. At first, all the volunteers were members of Immanuel, but over the years many individuals and groups from other churches and civic organizations have pitched in, both serving and providing food donations.
St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church began providing workers for the program in June of 2014. They now serve on the 2nd and 5th Fridays of every month, taking charge of planning, purchasing and preparing the meals for their assigned weeks. Robin Black-Rubenstein, Pastoral Associate at St. Boniface Catholic Church, says it’s been easy to recruit volunteers from within her parish. “They’re very excited to be a part of this, very excited to do more things within the Edwardsville community.”
Sharon Koenig is the Immanuel member who now organizes Free Lunch Friday and schedules volunteers. They usually serve 50-100 people per week, and she notices several “regulars,” some of whom give free-will donations for their meals, including church members, groups coming for meetings, and some people who work downtown. “Why do people come here? We don’t always know.”
Black-Rubenstein notes, “It’s for ANYBODY. Whether they’re wanting companionship, or…whether it’s based on monetary need, whether they’re college students trying to stretch a budget…everybody’s welcome. People come from all over for all different reasons. No questions asked.”
Diane Johnson, a volunteer from St. Boniface, notes, “People that come in are very appreciative. People that come in alone, we try to have somebody sit with them. It’s good to see the older people that maybe don’t get out that often, get out & talk with others. We don’t know who’s in need financially. You see a lot of the same faces month after month.”
Free Lunch Friday is supported by donations from the GlenEd Pantry, HandiMart, A Little Taste of Heaven Bakery, the St. John’s United Methodist’s Mission Garden and other local gardeners.
To volunteer or for more information, contact the church office at 618-656-4648 or email@example.com.
Do you see a need in our community, and have an idea for how to address it? Leave a comment below, and together let’s look for constructive, effective approaches to help those in need.