Setting the table is an ecumenical affair

Darlene Holsted, Jan Bowers and Jean Rice pitch in for clean up time after a Peace Café dinner served by First UMC Clearwater. –Photo courtesy Susan Curtiss and Amanda Bressler

Clearwater’s Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church saw a clear need to serve a hot evening meal once a week to its surrounding large homeless population. Once their Peace Café opened to serve that evening meal, it didn’t take long for United Methodist churches to pitch in, strengthening the ecumenical ministry.

“The homeless population is fairly aged and needs a lot of help,” said Sue Curtiss, chair of the mission team at the Clearwater First United Methodist Church. “We do a Thanksgiving program with five churches within a mile of each other (that includes) a Thanksgiving dinner.”

Through providing the ecumenical Thanksgiving ministry, connections were made that began First Clearwater’s journey to support the Peace Café ministry.

“By doing the (Thanksgiving) dinner, we meet mission-minded people (who) share what they are doing,” Curtiss said. “In that discussion, the people from Peace Presbyterian started talking about this program feeding the homeless. That sparked an interest, and one of their members said there was a need for dinner to be served the last Thursday of every month.”

Not knowing at the time if they would have the funds or volunteers to provide that meal on a continuing basis, the First Methodist mission team took a leap of faith to meet that need in August 2015.

The fourth Thursday of the month, 20-25 First Clearwater volunteers serve at least 120 people, providing 24 pounds of spaghetti, 30 pounds of meatballs and salads, rolls and beverages for around $200 a meal, according to Curtiss. Many meals are paid through individual donations, although the program is supported by the church’s missions budget.

First Clearwater’s chefs Tom Borst and John Parish are cooking up a Peace Café menu headlined by spaghetti and meatballs. –Photo courtesy Susan Curtiss and Amanda Bressler

“We serve the people that come—no buffet line,” Curtiss said. “One person on the team does a devotion and a song, and then we actually serve the meal to the participants. It is a great way to interact with them and show them they are important.

“Things I like about this ministry: we have seen a lot of different people volunteer that we haven’t seen in other mission programs, and you don’t have to commit for every Thursday,” Curtiss said. “It is fun to see people interact in our group.”

“We have a of couple men who have been doing the cooking,” said Rev. Daphne Johnson, senior pastor of the 700-member congregation. “Some people come and help with one thing and leave, and some people take over and stay for the whole thing. Some just come to set the tables.”

Largo’s St. Paul United Methodist Church mission team serves dinner every Sunday night at the Peace Café because they are a larger congregation—about 1,500 members.

“On Sunday after worship we have a team of cooks prepare the meal planned that week,” said Pam Dubov, missions and outreach team leader.

“The ministry is in a growth transition,” Dubov said. Now over 42 volunteers who have become part of it are committed as the first, second, third or fourth Sunday and serve or cook or both.  They serve in rotation as cooking and serving and driving the truck over (to the Café).

“The young adults, the Ignite Group, take the fifth Sunday when there is one and also help with the leaner (number of) volunteers in summer,” Dubov said. “We have a lot of seasonal church members October to April and have to fill in the gaps in the summer months.”

St. Paul UMC in Largo resources its Peace Café meals through its Open Arms Resource Center.

St. Paul has a large Open Arms Resource Center that disperses foods to locals and families, and it resources the meals for the Café.

“The…Open Arms Resource Center is open four days a week (and) provides groceries for locals and families,” Dubov said. “It has become a food hub.

“Cultivated relationships with area stores provide foods for individuals and families and bulk kinds of food for churches,” Dubov said. “We no longer buy food for the homeless feeding, but use the foods we get. Our kitchen has both a walk-in cooler and freezer so we don’t have to buy a lot of food for the meals, just the paper products.

“We make a fresh salad and take dessert over (to the Café),” Dubov said. “When new foods are delivered (to the food pantry), we check the cooler and decide on the menu, usually a meat-based dish. The meal includes a vegetable, starch and a meat.”

Dubov said that the missions and outreach team is trying to encourage more members to serve in the project so they can learn about their neighbors: the people receiving the meals.

“It is a real ecumenical effort with the First and St. Paul United Methodist Churches, the Episcopal Church and others,” Dubov said.

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