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Shepherd’s Table builds community through food

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RONAN — Nearly 100 friends, families and community members gathered at the Ronan Senior Center Tuesday night, Dec. 11 for good food, good music and a difficult to explain sense of community and camaraderie.

Considering that the event takes place every Tuesday night, the atmosphere at the Shepherd’s Table dinner is surprisingly celebratory, jovial and welcoming — something event organizer June Myhre said is quite normal. 

“First of all, I’m half Italian, so I think food is love,” Myhre laughed. “In that sense, I enjoy serving food that has been lovingly prepared and people enjoying it. I love the smile on their faces coming through the line; they’ve worked all day and get to sit down and enjoy a meal with their friends that they didn’t have to make.”

The event is primarily planned and executed by Myhre and the Faith Lutheran Church in Ronan, but a partnership among roughly six neighboring churches ensures the event unfolds weekly. 

Myhre has been involved since the event’s conception in November of 2010 and said the event has become a community staple feeding between 85 and 115 every week and sending home five to eight meals for people who weren’t able to make it out. 

Several weeks ago, Shepherd’s Table gave all leftovers to a single grandmother raising seven children in the valley. 

All food is either donated or purchased with money donated during dinners and at church. These donations go toward paper plates, plastic utensils and some of the food. Myhre said the church has a $200 surplus from this year and is planning to donate it to a charitable organization in the valley. 

While funded and planned by members of the Faith Lutheran Church, Myhre said the meal has very little, if anything, to do with religion or charity, and everything to do with creating a sense of community. 

“At least from our church’s point of view, we just wanted to have a community meal. We didn’t want it to be looked at as a meal for charity,” Myhre said. “It’s not. It’s just people coming together and enjoying food and each other’s company.

“Somewhere along the line we were classified as a dinner for the needy. That’s not true. I’m hesitant to talk about ministry or religion because that’s really not what it’s about ... It’s just a community meal that encourages people to come together.”

Retired school teacher and Missoula resident Mike Johnson is a regular guest at the Shepherd’s Table. Two years ago, Johnson made the trip to Ronan from his home in Missoula to visit a sick friend at St. Luke Community Hospital. Just before leaving, he mentioned out loud that he needed to find somewhere to eat. A nearby nurse heard him and suggested he attend the Shepherd’s Table dinner across the street. 

Since then, Johnson makes a point of stopping by whenever he’s in town. 

“I don’t know many people up here, but I enjoy it,” Johnson said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Mormon missionary Mary Stacey echoed Johnson’s sentiment. 

“We like to come in and see if (the organizers) need help. Sometimes they don’t need it, but we stay to sit down and meet with people,” Stacey said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

“For me, it’s such a pure and gracious way of making connections with people regardless of their social, economic or whatever standing,” Myhre said. “You’re just making connections with people, and to me, that’s the love of life.”

The Shepherd’s Table dinner is held year-round every Tuesday night from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Mission Valley Senior Center in Ronan. 

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