Family Table spread for Fridley Neighbors
September 7, 2009
Joyce Dahlberg, Judy Lange, and Jan Wright
Following John Wesley’s admonition to “do all the good you can,” Fridley United Methodist Church leaders determined to focus on the needs of their near neighbors. Because the now-urban community has many needs, especially among children and seniors, the church’s youth suggested providing community dinners. Family Table emerged as a monthly outreach program to help alleviate hunger in southern Anoka County.
Family Table is offered the fourth Saturday of each month at noon. Guests come as individuals, in small groups, or with families to enjoy a meal together. Greeters welcome them warmly and usher them upstairs, where hosts wait at the tables. The first stop is the salad bar, where guests find fresh vegetables, fruit, and bread. Servers then bring platters of meat, potatoes or rice dishes, vegetables, and dessert. Good table hosts are critical to the experience, helping the guests to enjoy a social time as well as a good dinner. Now many friendships are forming.
Rev. Diane C. Olson, minister of discipleship and education, said, “Our hospitality is truly welcoming. Those who are serving feel these are truly our guests. We give them the best we have.”
After months of planning, Fridley UMC’s first Family Table was held in October 2008, serving 38 guests. Attendance reached a high of 97 in March 2009. The current average is about 80, with a total of 659 meals being served since October. Over 99 church members have volunteered in some way, and 18 from other churches have also helped.
Guests find Family Table to be an appealing gathering place. A woman who had secluded herself since her husband’s death wanted to take her adult daughter to lunch for her birthday. The daughter suggested Family Table, where mother, daughter, and friends dined and shared gifts. All enjoyed this very special gathering.
Fridley UMC is fortunate to have as chefs Cuyler and Melissa Kappenman, both of whom graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. With their expertise in the kitchen and many willing helpers, the Family Table meal goes smoothly each month.
Each month 45 to 50 volunteers order and pick up food, arrange the fellowship hall, set tables, prepare and cook food, prepare bags of bread, greet, host, and serve guests, wash dishes and tablecloths, and reset for other church activities. The volunteers, thanks to coordinator Judy Lange, are highly organized, well trained, and dedicated. “People have to be involved and experience Family Table to realize the ministry and its rewards,” said Lange.
More than a meal
What began as a meal has expanded into a transforming ministry of many facets. Guests take home loaves of bread and produce freshly picked from church members’ gardens. In July, guests were welcomed to a free mini-clinic, courtesy of Allina staff. The guests received blood-pressure checks and bone scans, along with information about free and low-cost clinics in the area. Children receive new books, thanks to a partnership with Half-Price Books and contributions from Barnes and Noble. This fall, children will receive free school supplies.
This ministry is also made possible by the church’s partnerships with Second Harvest Heartland and the Lofthouse Bakery Outlet. Both provide much of the food necessary to serve meals at a very low cost. Payment for the program comes from church members and friends, with help from a special offering. Grant applications are currently in the works. Rev. Deb Walkes, lead pastor at Fridley UMC, said that Family Table works because “people feel safe here. Serving family style makes guests feel special, not like in an institutionalized setting.”
She recalls one special guest. “We have had a person who was dying, and she could assemble her family here for a meal together. We are building community.”
Joyce Dahlberg, Judy Lange, and Jan Wright are members of Fridley United Methodist Church.