Free dinners offered on Thursday nights

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Phyllis Chapman, foreground, Polly Roberson, back, and Shailie Miller, right, cook a free Thursday night meal. Photo by Millicent Martin Emery

Peeling potatoes, slicing onions and bacon and bringing broth to a boil are just a few of the tasks volunteers are doing to help feed western Wayne County.
So far, there hasn’t been any waste of the Thursday night carryout meals being distributed at local stores, fire stations and churches to anyone in need.
“The food is delicious,” said volunteer Phyllis Chapman. “We wouldn’t serve anything we wouldn’t eat. It’s really good.”
The same set of foods was served each week in January, so volunteers had a chance to streamline their cooking procedures.
“We’re getting better at it,” volunteer Shailie Miller said of the weekly preparations.
A new menu was created for February, with chipotle chicken, Spanish rice and a black bean and corn salad served each Thursday this month.
Meal distribution sites are rotating weekly between Cambridge City, Dublin, Milton and Pershing to make the meals as accessible as possible to all western Wayne residents. However, free delivery is available by advance request for those lacking transportation or those who are homebound.
“We’re hoping and praying more people hear about it and they put pride away and come get a meal,” Miller said.
In the last few weeks, 25 meals have been served each Thursday while supplies last. Volunteers expect demand will increase as word spreads about the program and when residents aren’t hibernating from bitter cold. They also project an increase in need when school is out for summer.
The Feb. 21 meal will be served at Milton Fire Department, 200 E. Walnut St., and the Feb. 28 meal will be offered at Resurrected Church, 503 Main St. in Pershing.
Volunteer Phyllis Chapman said since there haven’t been free prepared meals distributed in western Wayne County as there are in Richmond, the new effort called Feeding Western Wayne is able to help fill that gap.
“I don’t think anyone realized the need over here,” Miller said.
Scott Powell, who leads Resurrected Church in Pershing, has said he saw a need to start the program after the local ministerial association heard about hunger issues in local schools. However, he has sought partnerships and noted the effort should be a broader community endeavor beyond one church to make sure it’s sustainable throughout the year and beyond.
On a Thursday in late January, Polly Roberson, Chapman and Miller gathered at Zion’s Lutheran Church in Pershing to prepare that night’s meals.
Zion’s has donated the use of the church for weekly meal preparation, which the volunteers call a blessing.
The trio cooked 10 pounds of potatoes, 10 pounds of beef, four one-pound bags of noodles and several cans of green beans. In addition, fruit cups, rolls and bottled water were distributed to provide a balanced meal. Foods prepared at Zion’s are safely kept warm and then dished at the sites into to-go boxes donated by IHOP.
After the first week of fixing meals on Wednesday night, volunteers have shifted to cooking at 4 p.m. Thursdays in time for the 6:30-7:30 p.m. serving time.
One reason the group can prepare meals quickly is the donation of an Instant Pot that is helping speed cooking times. So far, the fast-paced cooker has been used to heat green beans flavored with bacon and onions.
The three ingredients that are needed to make the magic happen are volunteer cooks, volunteer servers and donated foods.
Volunteer Richai Riggs is posting needs for volunteers and specific foods such as noodles or broth to fit the menu on a Facebook page devoted to the effort, called Feeding Western Wayne. Those interested in following the discussion may send a request to join the group, and then can respond when they see an item they’d like to provide or a volunteer shift they can fill.
Rigg’s requests so far have been met within 10 to 20 minutes of a post, Miller said, showing the benefits of technology to get fast responses.
“It’s made me happy to see how fast people have jumped in on it,” Miller said.
Miller said local residents generally want to help reduce hunger, but they aren’t sure how to individually do that. She noted the group’s specific requests can help people to take action.
Some volunteers come from a variety of denominations of local churches, while others aren’t active with a particular church.
“We’ve had good people come serve, and they’ve been tremendous help,” Chapman said. “We couldn’t have asked for better people to help or donate, which is a good thing.”
In the long run, help is being sought from local residents, businesses and other churches to contribute money or items such as delivery fuel, side dishes, drinking water and other beverages, tableware packets, food packaging containers, individual condiment packages and bags. Donors can give a one-time gift or make a monthly financial pledge to the effort.
Powell has said he knows a lot of people don’t feel comfortable visiting a church setting for various reasons, so Feeding Western Wayne went about finding a variety of distribution sites.
Even when meals are given away at a church, Powell emphasizes that it will be a welcoming environment and visitors won’t be bombarded with discussions of religion.

How to get involved
Anyone interested in giving time, items or money to the Feeding Western Wayne program is encouraged to join the Facebook page Feeding Western Wayne, contact scottpowellministries@gmail.com or call (765) 541-2814. Those needing to make an advance delivery request for a meal are encouraged to use Powell’s contact information as well.

– By Millicent Martin Emery