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Volunteers needed to serve free community meals

A hot meal can be the centerpiece for socializing or fill the gnawing ache of hunger for those in need. Many free meals in Lake County from Polson to St. Ignatius provide both food and friendship for folks who need either. 

JourneyBe Pastor John Payne in Polson said people sit down to the weekly meals set up “like home” in different locations, and as people eat, they start to make connections. “People come in for different reasons,” he said. “We have some that need a meal, some that want to volunteer and others that want to participate and support other people. It brings the community together.”

The newly developed monthly meal in St. Ignatius, hosted by the Alliance Church, has a similar set up where people can get a meal or socialize at the senior center. Lynn Delecaris sat down to dinner among friends during the August meal.

“This is great for the community,” she said. “A lot of people live alone and this gives them a place to get together. It’s a social event.”

Linda Merchant sat across from Delecaris and added that people living alone might not bother with a balanced meal, so the community dinner gives them a place to eat nutritious foods. 

Jason Jury runs the Alliance Church and helps organize the monthly meal with several volunteers, including his family, during the last Wednesday of each month starting at 5:30 p.m. in the senior center. The center allowed the group to use the kitchen to cook up the meals where there is plenty of room for people to sit down and eat together. Jury said the meal fills a need in the community.

“The more we do this, the more we see how much it’s needed,” he said. “We’d like to be able to do it more than once a month.”

He said several church members came up with the idea of providing meals to the public, which started earlier this year. The first meal the church group served was a Thanks Giving dinner. “It went so well we wanted to do more,” he said.

And, so far, there has been enough food to feed a few dozen people each month, although volunteers make the occasional run to the grocery store for more salad.

“People donate food and time to make this happen,” he said. “We put out the call, and people donate items or volunteer.”

Volunteers Jade Smith, 16, and Michaela Corbin, 18, served up slices of cake during the dinner. They said the meal gives them a chance to “hang out” together, but they had a bigger purpose in mind when they lined up to serve the food: “We like helping people,” Smith said.

In Polson, several church groups collaborate to make sure that there is a free meal available every Friday night from 5-7 p.m. during what is called the Family Table. 

“We make it as much like home as we can,” said JourneyBe Pastor John Payne. He said the churches set out real dishes to add to the home-like atmosphere. 

The location changes each Friday depending on which church is hosting the event with an average of about 70 people in attendance, Payne said. 

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 1002 4th Ave., serves dinner on the first Friday of each month. The Presbyterian Church of Polson, 301 4th Ave. East, serves on the second Friday. The United Methodist Church, 301 16th Ave. East, hosts the dinner on the third Friday. JourneyBe Christian Church, 101 Seventh Ave. West, provides the fourth Friday night meal, and when there is a fifth Friday in a month, Polson Community Church, 1814 First St. East, hosts the dinner. People can call JourneyBe for more information at 406-883-5160.

“In Polson, we have a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck and it can be hard to get by,” Payne said, “so the churches got together about seven years ago to provide a meal every Friday. We have people that come in that really need it, other people come in to eat and support the program, and others come to contribute to it by doing things like volunteering.”

Polson’s Soup’s On soup kitchen, located at JourneyBe Church, also provides free meals on Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Local churches and community members collaborate to provide the lunches. 

“We’ve served 700,000 lunches in the past eight years,” Payne said. “It’s a community effort. We have people donate food, and we have people volunteer. We are the only soup kitchen in Polson.”

Due to a shortage of volunteers, the program went from serving lunches four days a week from Monday to Thursday to only being able to open the doors two days a week.

“We are open on Wednesday and Thursday,” Payne said. “If anyone wants to volunteer they are welcome to come in on those days from 9 to 2.”

He said volunteers don’t need to be gourmet cooks. People usually come in to make soup and help clean up. The desserts, breads and salads are donated.   

“We are trying to get enough volunteers to come in to build it back up to four days a week,” he said. 

Like the St. Ignatius meals, people line up for the Polson Friday night dinners to get a meal if they want to socialize, avoid cooking or need to get something to eat.

The meals are available to anyone.

Meals are also available based on a person’s ability to pay at senior centers across the valley and the price for those meals starts around $6 for people under 60, and less for those over 60.

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