CELEBRATE!

CELEBRATE! By David Lias John Lushbough, a driving force behind making The Welcome Table a reality in Vermillion, will never forget the reaction of a young boy the first time he participated in the event.

He sat at a table at the First United Methodist Church in Vermillion. It wasn�t the hot meal that drew his attention. He noticed the linen table cloth, the linen napkins, the silverware and the centerpiece on the table.

�He looked at his plate and the linen table cloth,� Lushbough said, �and said, ?this is how rich people eat, isn�t it?��

For four years now, The Welcome Table has enriched the lives of people in Vermillion, not just by serving a hot, home-style meal, but also by offering a unique form of fellowship.

That, alone, is reason to celebrate. Throw in the fact that this Memorial Day weekend marks the fourth anniversary of The Welcome Table, and something special is bound to happen.

The Welcome Table�s board of directors is inviting the community to take part in a fourth anniversary celebration and benefit concert at the church, located at 16 N. Dakota Street.

A picnic lunch will be served at 5:30 p.m. At 6 p.m., the music begins, provided by Minor 5th, a local a cappella group, and Kickland, Martin and Johnson, a folk band.

A freewill offering will be taken to benefit The Welcome Table.

But, as always, this special event demands nothing from its participants. And, in surprising ways, it has given people things never imagined when the concept first became reality in June, 2001.

The little things

The Rev. Steve Miller, a former member of The Welcome Table board, believes part of its success lies in the attention to the smaller details.

�I like the spirit of the place,� he said. �It pays attention to the little things. That�s what makes it unique.�

The last thing planners of The Welcome Table wanted was the endeavor to share the qualities of a soup kitchen, where food is simply slopped on a plate.

When you arrive at First United Methodist Church, Bob and Helen Eason greet you at the door. A volunteer seats you at one of the finely adorned tables.

Your plate, brimming with

hot food, is brought to you. And the volunteers involved in serving meals also take the time to sit among the diners and chat.

�We encourage the serving groups to sit down with the guests,� Miller said. �Often, we have live piano music playing in the background. And everybody gets a loaf of fresh bread.�

That�s a tradition begun by Lushbough. On Monday mornings, before each Welcome Table is served, he bakes 30 loaves of homemade bread � enough to give away to each family, couple, or individual as they leave the church following the meal.

Feeling of trust

There were seven Welcome Tables held between June and December of its first year.

Ever since, thanks to the organizational efforts of its board, and overwhelming public acceptance, The Welcome Table has been a weekly occurrence in Vermillion.

�Each Monday, we prepare about 200 meals,� Lushbough said. �On average, we serve approximately 175 people per night.�

�People have so trusted The Welcome Table,� the Rev. Brook McBride, pastor at First United Methodist, said, �that they really do see it as their home.�

As the event gained acceptance in the community, board members brainstormed for ways to use the time to offer even more services to the community.

So, as children play in the lush grass of the church lawn, adults who have finished their meals can often get their blood pressure checked before leaving the fellowship hall. Volunteers offer child care to parents who want to enjoy a few moments uninterrupted while they eat.

The Welcome Table has helped provide school supplies to children in the fall, and warm clothing to those who need it in the winter.

A big help

Volunteers have buoyed the spirits of those who fallen on hard times. They know that occasionally, The Welcome Table has temporarily eased people�s hunger pangs.

�Just last week, the last time we served, we had a guy come in who had just lost his job,� Maxine Johnson, board member, said. �Last Monday�s meal was the only meal he was going to have that week. He really piled it on (his plate) so he could make through the week.�

Welcome Table organizers don�t care how much food is consumed. People are encouraged to take extra food home in take out containers provided at each meal.

A special touch added to each meal may be The Welcome Table�s secret to success.

�One evening we were serving someone who was disabled, and it was his birthday,� Lushbough said. �So we sang Happy Birthday for him, and he just lit up. His advocate told us he got so excited.�

Lushbough also will never forget the words of a young woman who had escaped abuse with the help of the Vermillion Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

�She came up to us after her meal, and said, ?Don�t change anything. I felt safe here.��

Volunteer groups initially think food is the most important aspect of The Welcome Table.

�When we�re orienting a new group of volunteers,� Miller said, �we make sure they know that promoting a sense of safety and self-worth is most important.�

Community help

The Welcome Table�s success can be traced not only to its organizers, but to various civic and student organizations that pitch in each week to help serve the meals.

�Over half of the meals are served during the school year,� Lushbough said, �so student groups have really contributed greatly.�

The Welcome Table, McBride added, can also count on help from community churches, civic groups, fraternities, sororities, Habitat for Humanity and the United Way.

�It really reaches out to a lot of people now,� Miller said, �and I hear people talking about it around the community with great pride.�

The Welcome Table is planning to serve 500 people Monday. �We will serve outside, but we will have tables inside for those who prefer to eat inside,� he said. �The bands will perform outside, and if there are weather problems, we�ll simply move inside.�

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