Food, fellowship and more are served at The Welcome Table Once a month, volunteers of The Welcome Table at the United Methodist Church in Vermillion serve a hot meal to anyone who is hungry. by David Lias A group of 40 Vermillion citizens have banded together to provide a hot meal once a month to anyone who is hungry.
The planners and workers are discovering that, while serving a nutritious dinner, they too are being nurtured in many ways.
All are welcome at The Welcome Table, said Brook McBride, one of the organizers of this effort to provide food and fellowship in the community.
The first Welcome Table meal, served June 6 at the United Methodist Church, fed 65 people, including the crew of workers who helped out in the kitchen, set the tables, and washed the dishes afterwards.
"Our philosophy is that we're serving not only our people who come to partake in the meal, but also the people who are serving," said McBride, the pastor of the church.
Last Monday, July 9, The Welcome Table crew once again fired up the stove in the Methodist Church and prepared for the unknown.
It's one thing to plan a menu and arrange pleasant place settings in the church's dining area.
It's quite another thing, the meals' organizers have discovered so early in their endeavor, to predict public reaction.
"We're still very new at this," said Carol Lushbough, who, with her husband John, has joined the scores of people who have helped make The Welcome Table a reality.
"I'm nervous," McBride admitted above the din of kitchen chatter approximately 30 minutes before guests were scheduled to arrive Monday.
McBride's concerns were replaced with feelings of satisfaction. The Welcome Table fed 115 guests and 25 workers. Helpers had to make quick trips to local grocery stores for more food.
"It was quite a quantum leap from the first time back in June," McBride said. "It was a great night for us."
People who entered the church's dining hall were greeted by neatly decorated tables, with white linen table clothes, the church's finest dishes, and centerpieces of brightly colored flowers.
"We usually use cloth napkins but we're using paper napkins tonight because we're serving fried chicken," said Carol Lushbough.
People who choose to partake in the meal needn't feel a sense of urgency. They needn't worry about standing for a long time in a slow-moving line juggling a tray of dishes and food.
They are courteously welcomed to sit at a table, and be waited upon. The food comes to them.
Monday's meals consisted of broasted chicken, au gratin hash browns, green beans, salads, homemade bread and chocolate sundaes.
With no strings attached.
No sermon is preached.
Those who may have the ability to pay for their meals aren't pressed for donations.
The goal of The Welcome Table is to feed those who are hungry, and to perhaps find other ways to help people in the community.
"Our prayer is what we are doing; we are not proselytizing in any way. We just want to feed people," McBride said. "We've consciously left any sort of obvious religious motives out of it. Our faith is inspiring us to do it."
The idea for this community activity was born months ago when members of the United Methodist Church gathered on a Wednesday noon for a "Search for Meaning" meeting.
"Out of that meeting, we started talking about our ideas of about things we might do in the community," McBride said. "Back in February is when we really started getting serious about it."
"We had a smaller group at first, about seven or 10 people, but when we started talking to other people, everybody gets excited, and we finally opened it up to a few more churches," John Lushbough said. "All of a sudden we had 30 people, and that's what actually got me nervous and excited at the same time. This project just seems to get a lot of energy from people."
Members of the congregations of the United Church of Christ-Congregational, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and the Newman Center in Vermillion have signed on to help prepare and serve the meals.
"We talked a lot about the food. We want it to be festive. We want it to be a good, hot, nutritious, attractive meal," McBride said. "If we had a guest coming, what would we serve and how would we serve it?"
That's why, John Lushbough said, it was decided early on to break out the church's finest dishes and linens, and to not have participants walk through a cafeteria-style line to get food.
"It's a feast. We're serving people as you would serve them in your house, rather than have them go through a line," he said. "We had a lot of discussion about that."
"We wanted to eliminate the line if we could," McBride added. "One of the people said to us in June when we served our first meal that it was so nice to sit down and be served for once.
Organizers are planning the next Welcome Table feast for sometime in August. By then, they hope more people who are willing to help host the meals will join in.
Without a consistent core of volunteers to plan and serve the meals, the program won't be successful, John Lushbough said.
"We're looking at not just the churches in the community," he said. "We hope to receive help from other groups; in fact, that's the only way that this will sustain itself, is with help from other groups and churches."
The Welcome Table organizers hope to offer more than food at the August meal. They've already begun exploring the possibility of gathering the materials to create kits of back-to-school supplies, to distribute to children and families.
"We'll need to see what the needs are, and this can perhaps be a launching pad for a variety of things," McBride said.
McBride, who helped organize a similar venture while serving as a pastor of a Mitchell church, said just as much as hungry people need a meal, he's found that he needs to become involved in helping them.
"I want contact with people. I have a need and a real feeling that I want to build a relationship with different people," he said. "My hope is that I get to know more people and then maybe understand a little bit more the situations they are dealing with in their lives."
He realizes this will take time.
"One of the hardest things to do is develop trust, and I think that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to develop trust between communities," he said. "There is sometimes a feeling by some that you can be manipulated by these types of things, and we're definitely trying to eliminate as many as those doubts as we can."
McBride is happy to see the project gaining momentum. He's hopeful that the community can help The Welcome Table keep pace with Vermillion's growing needs.
"We haven't really solicited much. We've kept it kind of quiet because we know it might get too big for us to handle that way," he said. "But for me, part of the reason for this is the challenge of doing it.
"I think our eyes have already gotten opened to the need for this," he added. "I don't think we were nearly aware of it before. We may not have the word of this out there nearly well enough, but the need for this, to me, has got me inspired."
John Lushbough would like to see The Welcome Table serve on a more frequent, consistent basis. He doesn't doubt that, to truly meet the needs of people in the Vermillion community, the serving schedule could be stepped up to once a week.
That, naturally, would mean more manpower, more work and more resources.
It's a challenge he believes this community can meet.
John Lushbough has baked every loaf of bread that's been served at The Welcome Table.
"Homemade bread has been an important symbol for us," he said. "All of our guests are served homemade bread, and each person is given a loaf of bread as they go home."
He's already bought a new, larger mixer to help him prepare the dough.
If The Welcome Table progresses as the planners hope, he may become quite busy with his bread baking.