There is something biblical about serving a meal to the homeless and downtrodden or sitting with them to converse while they are having a meal.
Several churches in the greater Tampa area regularly participate in Trinity Café, a ministry of Feeding Tampa Bay. Those who need a hot meal can come any day of the week to be served restaurant-style and socialize with the volunteers.
The ministry blesses all involved.
Think Proverbs 19:17: Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
|Chuck Rine, pauses for a photo with one of the guests (in wheelchair) at Trinity Cafe. Rine is the volunteer coordinator for St. James United Methodist Church.|
Those volunteering for Trinity Café say it goes way beyond that. They, too, receive blessings for their ministry with those seeking a hot meal.
“It fulfills a need of ours, but we get to help some people, too,” said Chuck Rine, a volunteer coordinator for St. James United Methodist Church, which has about 40 volunteers who regularly take turns at Trinity.
“I find it rewarding,” said Pam Devoid of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church. “My time is very valuable. My husband and I still work, and if I don’t feel like I’m making a difference, I don’t put my time in to it.”
She and her husband Pat are more than happy to put their time in at Trinity Café, she said. They coordinate the volunteers for Temple Terrace UMC.
“We take volunteers over to help serve a couple of times a month, typically,” Devoid said. “They do serve for lunch or breakfast.”
There are multiple positions – serving, hosting a table, preparing drinks and table settings, etc.
“I’m kind of one of those who will sit anywhere,” Devoid said.
Shalon Barnett, who operates a home for women in transition, said she brings her own story to Trinity from Shalon’s HOPE.
“I go and then bring a couple of the ladies in the home with me,” she said. She participates monthly alongside the Methodist churches.
“What I understood is I was able to share with them and just give them hope. That was me 12 years ago. I came out of the same kind of situation. I ended up falling on hard times, hitting rock bottom and was homeless. I had a background, so it was very hard to get a place and get a job.”
She shares her hope with those seeking a meal at Trinity, she said.
“I had seen a video on Trinity Café and really was intrigued with the concept, so I brought their orientation video to church,” Devoid said. “We played it in church and put it out there to see if there was some interest. We had a lot of interest.”
A lot of relationships are established through this volunteer effort, she said. People who go to church together get to know each other better as they volunteer together.
Susan and Chuck Rine, with St. James, have had similar experiences.
|Dineen Paris, with St. James UMC, poses with a table full of homemade cakes the volunteer team brings once a month to Trinity Cafe|
“My husband and I both are retired school principals,” Susan Rine said. “When we retired, we were looking for something we could do to serve, to give back. A friend who had been to Trinity invited me to go one day three years ago, and the rest is history.”
When they are not there to volunteer, they are missed, she said. They also miss the volunteers who might not be there for one week.The volunteers are so dedicated that they go on the Trinity calendar to see when there may not be enough helpers, and they sign up to fill in where there is a void.
“I saw every time, a whole room full of people who needed to eat, needed food, but also needed compassion, conversation, air conditioning and an atmosphere of acceptance and love,” Susan Rine said.
Chuck Rine tells the volunteers every Monday the most important thing to do is smile when people come in.
“Our purpose is to serve a meal with dignity and respect, the way we want to be served,” he said.
A host always sits at the table, and another volunteer serves the food.
“The host is as important as anything else,” Chuck Rine said. “You are talking to people and listening to people. A lot of people. Recently, I took care of one of the tables. I had a very intelligent conversation about politics.
“These people know what is going on. People think homeless and poor people don’t have feelings and don’t have things that are important to them, and they do.”
Susan Rine admits she went into this volunteer mission with preconceived notions of who the people are that she’d be serving.
“They’ve been destroyed,” she said. Those notions have changed plenty.
“We have had the opportunity to get to know wonderful people and establish friendships with people we ordinarily wouldn’t have come in contact with, both with the guests as well as fellow volunteers.”
There is no judging at Trinity Café, Devoid said.
|John Eaton and Pam Devoid, Temple Terrace UMC|
“We had a family of seven. Two adults and five children and three of the children are deaf,” she said.
“I didn’t ask their story, and they didn’t give it; but I imagine it was a low-income situation. It’s a struggle for some to feed their family regular meals every day.”
Temple Terrace UMC began volunteering at Trinity in February, and volunteers have been going regularly since.
“It has been a successful thing for our church and an easy fit because so many were ready to volunteer,” Devoid said.
They come across many stories from the guests, she said, and almost every week, one of the guests goes to the piano at Trinity Café 2 in Wesley Chapel to play.
One of those guests is Tommy. Devoid said Temple Terrace often is gifted with pianos from members who pass away. She is hoping to give one of those pianos to Tommy. He told her he could pay something. She told him it would be a gift.
“Those are the stories we come across,” Devoid said. “It is a rewarding experience.”
—Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer in Valrico.