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Weekly dinners foster community spirit in Mission

ST. IGNATIUS — Free community dinners are no strangers to the Mission Valley during the holiday season, but one group in St. Ignatius has continued to serve free, hot meals every Monday evening since November. And they plan to keep going as long as they have funds and volunteers.

It all started when some local church groups put their heads together to think of a way to become more involved and better serve their community, Cornerstone Faith Center pastor Lynn Lapka said.

“We thought a good way to do that was just share a meal,” Lapka said. “My heart’s desire is to see it not just as a help or a free meal, but a place people can tie in to the community.”

Head cook Pearl Barry agreed.

“I’m here under direction of God to feed the community, and I’m loving it,” Barry said. “This isn’t a religion … but when each one of them steps up to the counter, it’s like we’re serving the Lord.”

Their philosophy seems to be working — each week the group serves between 150 and 200 hot meals, including takeout meals, which are always available for people that can’t get out of the house or would just rather spend time at home with their families.

“We just try to give as much as we possibly can,” Lapka said.

And it’s all completely free. No donations are collected at the dinners — if people want to help out, they can give to the community dinner account at Rod’s Harvest Foods. The rest of the donations come through local churches.
 
“We don’t want people to feel any pressure,” Lapka explained. “(The money) kind of comes in, and we just have to trust that it will.”
 
The volunteers keep coming in, too. It takes about 12 to 15 people to prepare and serve the meals each week, and there’s been no shortage of willing helpers. The delicious meal they get might be part of the incentive — this is no soup kitchen, Lapka pointed out, and you can expect to eat a well-balanced, fresh meal at each dinner. Monday’s menu included turkey, homemade bread, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables, fruit cocktail and a variety of cookies. 
 
“We’re not skimping on cost … just making sure we provide a nutritional meal,” Barry said.
 
According to Tony Mathes, who stopped by to eat after a full day working at Hunt’s Timbers, the food was delicious.
 
“I loved it. This is the first time I’ve been here, and it was good,” he said.
 
Although several local churches help sponsor the dinners, both Lapka and Barry emphasized that there is no religious agenda involved.
 
“I just really want to see the community come out, and as you can see, there is no discrimination,” Barry said.
 
Dinner is served from 5 to 7 p.m. each Monday at the St. Ignatius Community Center.

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