Pastor owns restaurant that reaches out to Lincoln homeless

Karen Lamb puts butterscotch oatmeal cookies into the oven Tuesday at Lulu's on N. With the help of paying customers, the restaurant owner offers free meals to those who can't afford one.
Karen Lamb puts butterscotch oatmeal cookies into the oven Tuesday at Lulu's on N. With the help of paying customers, the restaurant owner offers free meals to those who can't afford one.

She uses clothespins to hang the tickets.

One ticket, one free lunch.

Karen Lamb owns Lulu's on N, where a sign on the front window lets hungry people know they are welcome to a meal, even if they don't have the money.

She's using an ice cream scoop to make balls of cookie dough, oatmeal scotchies on their way to the oven. A pot of vegetable beef simmers on a two-burner stove. Lamb wears a baseball cap and blue jeans and a chef's apron.

The 57-year-old does some catering, too. She works part-time at an insurance office and on Sundays she preaches at United Methodist churches in Burr and Douglas.

She became a minister in mid-life.

"I was working at a big corporation and I lost my job," she says. "I couldn't find another one because I was supposed to be doing something else." This.

She started the Community Meal Program when Lulu's moved downtown a few years ago to the former Korn Popper building across from the library.

A sign outside Lulu's on N offers customers the ability to pay for a free community meal by donating $5. Courtesy photo.

"I said we have to do something about the homeless population, people who were hungry."

By "we," Lamb mostly means herself. She's had partners in the small restaurant, but now it's just the preacher and one part-time helper.

The free meal concept is simple and relies on the help of paying customers. A five-dollar bill will pay for one meal. A single dollar bill is paired with more dollars.

Each ticket gets a customer in need a hot lunch.

Last week, she reached out for help with Community Meals after her funds ran dry. Her plea brought in $100, enough for 20 meals.

Those 20 tickets are gone. More money came in Tuesday, after her face appeared on the local TV news. She posted her gratitude on Facebook and put out a call to federal employees in Lincoln to come by for a free lunch.

When the money is gone, she'll keep giving.

She can't turn people away, Lamb says.

"I have a hard time saying no. Friday, I fed more homeless people than paying customers."

And the woman behind Lulu's on N has a plan.

She'd like to turn the restaurant into a pay-as-you-can place and she's figuring out how to make her business a nonprofit.

She envisions grants and a small job training program for people who need a boost, a way to get into the working world.

"I want to talk to other restaurant owners, find out what their needs are," she says.

Then get future workers in her small kitchen to learn the tricks of the cooking trade, help them get food handler permits, the right clothes.

"Most importantly, buy them shoes with nonslip soles."

She's serious about that, says the apron-wearing preacher.

A good woman with a motto: Feeding hungry bodies and nourishing souls.

Cindy Lange-Kubick, Columnist, Lincoln Journal Star

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are Engaging in ministry with the poor with their communities in ways that are transformative.