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Church Brings Back Family Dinners

Church Brings Back Family Dinners

Annette Spence says she worried about her boys when they grew up and moved away, but they’d always come back for a home-cooked meal. Spence and friends started cooking up a free, community dinner for young adults any anyone looking for comfort food and a place to gather round a table. The pandemic changed the look of these monthly meals, but the spirit of love and community grows.

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(Knoxville, Tennessee)

Twice a month, cars line the drive of Norwood United Methodist Church for a home cooked meal.

Mike Feely: “Fish fry with hushpuppies?”

Cathy Meredith: “Yeah, that sounds good. I haven’t had any fish in a long time.”

Mike: How about tartar sauce on it?”

Cathy: “Yeah, that would be good.”

Volunteers and food donations cover 200 free meals. That number grows all the time.

Jeff Emory: “I’ve got medical conditions. It’s been a very rough time.”

Tara Emory: We’ve got our family and a bunch of family members. Jeff Emory: “We’ve got 5 people at home and my mom and dad at a separate house.

Facebook, and flyers at the local school and library get the word out.

Rebekah Wolfenbarger: “I saw it on Facebook and I joined the group. I’m a single mom with 3 kids.”

Everything is made from scratch and packaged with care, even the dog biscuits.

 (loud nat of peeling corn)

Rev. James Dougherty, Fountain City United Methodist Church: “I’m a city slicker and I have learned today, at over 80 years of age, how you shuck corn.”

Mike: I really want to thank you all for being here.

Mike feely collects donations of produce and recruits friends, mostly from United Methodist Churches for the kitchen crew.

Betty Dougherty, Fountain City United Methodist Church: “We’re working out a trade deal with Mike. We’re coming here to shuck corn if he will teach our Sunday school class.”

The program started as a community potluck in the church hall for college students and anyone hungry for a free meal and fellowship. COVID increased need and volunteers shifted to take-out.

Prayer: “Lord, we just ask you to bless each one that comes through to receive a lunch today.”

Mary Frances Tucker, Fountain City United Methodist Church: “We had about 40 -50 people that was kind of growing and then the pandemic hit. Now we’re having 100, 150 most of the time. So from 50 to 150, that’s what ministry is all about.”

JaNae’ Swanson-Brown loves to cook. On this day, she drove 3 hours to lead the fish fry.

JaNae’ Swanson-Brown, Cokesbury United Methodist Church: “The first year I did a pasta dinner with them and then the next year we did a low country boil. And from there I said I would commit to at least one a year. I’m from south Georgia and I love seafood, so I don’t mind coming and helping.”

Mike Feely, First Centenary United Methodist Church: “I think the food reminds them of homecoming dinners, it reminds them of mama’s cooking. All those things come into play. It really appeals to folks on a lot of levels. I guess that’s the Methodist part of it. What is a church? What is a fellowship? It’s kind of getting back to, ‘We’ll sit around the table and everyone’s got a place.’”

Annette Spence, Ebenezer United Methodist Church: “There’s always somebody who needs a home cooked meal. There’s always somebody who’s hungry. There’s always somebody who needs a connection. Running up to their car window and we’re so happy to see them. Giving them dog treats or a bottle of water or something. There’s just a way to communicate love, however brief that interaction. Who knows, maybe it could lead to a deeper connection.”

Annette Spence is the writer and editor of the website The Call To Cook for the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. Annette incorporates family recipes and fresh local produce in the menus for the free meals at Norwood. Volunteers even bake dog biscuits. The Call to Cook shares recipes and stories from Norwood and other ministries that feed bodies and souls.

This video was published November 4, 2021.

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