Churches offer free summer meals

Churches offer free summer meals

Emily Funk gets lunch for herself and her family earlier this week at Gateway Community Church’s lunch offering in Landmark Park. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

SHIRLEY — It’s Monday, and Kelly Fields and Jack Driesbach are at church, bagging cookies.

The men place the zip-lock bags they fill in a round green plastic tub, down the table from a row of grocery-style plastic bags. When the next car pulls up in the parking lot of Shirley-Wilkinson Community United Methodist Church, they and other volunteers want to be ready to slide a square takeout box holding taco meat, chips and fixings into one of the bags. Then they’ll add the cookies and carry the meal to a waiting car.

Two days later, they’ll do it again, except instead of taco scoops they’ll fill the boxes with chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes and green beans. Then they’ll end the week with boxes of chicken salad with rolls and veggie sticks.

“There’s no more basic need than food,” said Mary Driesbach, who’s married to Jack. While she imagines some might not think there’d be a need in the area that would draw people to a meal, “It just goes to show you don’t know.”

On the same Monday, hotdogs were on the menu in Fortville, as members of Gateway Community Church of Fortville served lunches in Landmark Park east of the church building.

The Monday hotdog lunches of recent years are back this summer after being canceled in 2020 amid coronavirus concerns. People are noticing and coming over, be they children in a karate day camp or construction workers refurbishing Main Street’s pavement.

“It’s nice to see people finally, ‘Oh, OK,” said Gateway member Shirley Ely, good to see them relax and stop asking how much they cost.

Setting up to serve lunches “doesn’t mean ‘Come and support us with your dollars,’ (but) ‘Let us serve you,’” she said.

Last summer, Shirley-Wilkinson Community United Methodist Church planned to serve free lunches three days a week over the summer — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They thought it might be a good fit for children home for school during the summer and away from school cafeteria lunches. They envisioned having some games and activities the youths could enjoy after lunch.

Amid COVID-19, those 2020 plans changed. But they were never abandoned — only adapted.

The church started serving lunches a couple of months earlier than planned. They did so because children were home from school and learning online amid the coronavirus quarantine. The meals were passed out as to-go meals instead of being served in the church dining room.

Sometimes more than 60 lunches were passed out. Various individuals, including some who don’t attend the church but knew what it was doing, would mail checks made out for donations.

This year, the lunches in Shirley started up again when local schools dismissed for the summer. (The town straddles the Eastern Hancock and Charles A. Beard Memorial school districts.) The pastor in Shirley, the Rev. Rick Hutson, said in between helping fill boxes that the lunch program has worked out well.

“We definitely knew we were going to do it again,” he said. “We’ve got a great bunch of people here that really want to help out.”

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