Churches and volunteers in the area unite to provide free weekly “to-go” meals to those in need.
The effort already has widespread support from the community and beyond. Meals begin August 2 and will be held every Tuesday evening at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 311 W. Mackie St., Beaver Dam. They can be picked up between 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. through the church parking lot off Beaver Street.
The meals are intended for those who need them, but are accessible to everyone, regardless of income level.
The program is administered by the premier Lutheran ministry “Loaves & Fishes”, although efforts began with church members John and Linda Smedema.
“I told John he needed to have a hobby after he retired and look what happened,” Linda said with a laugh.
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“For me, it’s sort of based on my faith,” John said. “I try to follow Jesus’ example of serving others. To me, that’s a big part of his message.
When John was working in Watertown, he was looking for service opportunities and connected to a program at Watertown Moravian Church.
“They served a hot meal every week,” John said. “I volunteered there for two and a half years.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the church was serving 60-80 people per week in the church basement. During COVID, that number jumped from drive-thru pickup to more than 400. After 13½ years of operation, the program has served more than 80,000 meals.
Closer to home, John and Linda looked for a similar opportunity and heard about the community table at the Watermark Community Center. This program has not taken place for some time.
“We did a survey of what was being offered,” John said. “I’ve spoken to churches that have hosted meals in the past, and we felt there was a real need. We came to our own church, which has a commercial kitchen, and they were very responsive.
They met Louis Gregurich, who many may know from his work in the area, and he was also very interested.
“We want to make good, healthy meals,” said Gregurich, who was educated at Northern Technical College and has worked in the food business for 22 years. “It’s not fast food. It’s a great opportunity to make sure everyone is fed. I don’t want anyone to go hungry.
“I’ve been in the food business for a long time and I love what I do,” Gregurich said. “I also have several chefs from different parts of the country who are eager to participate. None of them are paid. It’s their way of sharing their talents with the community and getting creative with whatever is available to them. For them, it’s a chance to have fun and cook great food. We are all very happy to be part of it.
He added: “We’ll do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t come out of a box, but if it has to, we’ll make sure it tastes good.”
The effort is ecumenical, involving many churches in the region, to establish a core of volunteers and support. Support came from a number of sources, including United Way of Dodge County, Horicon Bank, Milwaukee Rectory, Klassen Quality Chocolates, Beaver Dam Area Community Foundation, and other sources.
Recruitment of volunteers is an obstacle, but people react eagerly.
“We have sent letters to churches and organizations in the area and some have already responded,” Linda said. “We hope to get more, because it takes six to eight people a week to run things efficiently. We hope to have enough people to not have to rely on the same team every week. If anyone can help out twice a year that would be great. This gives everyone who joins us the chance to interact with the community. A relationship is formed. »
Families can volunteer, as well as local businesses, industries, civic groups and others.
“We’ve heard from churches in Waupun and Cambria wanting to help,” John said. “It’s open to the whole region, and that also applies to volunteers.
Donations are always welcome, be it food, money or supplies.
“Every penny that is donated to us goes towards food and provides meals to communities in the area,” Linda said. “It’s not just Beaver Dam. It’s Horicon, Mayville, Randolph, Burnett, Juneau, Columbus, Waupun.
A brat fry is coming July 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Food Pride and there will also be a car wash and bake sale at First Lutheran Church on July 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All are invited to come and support the mission.
Checks can be made payable to Loaves & Fishes c/o First Lutheran Church, 311 W. Mackie St., Beaver Dam, WI 53916. For more information, call John Smedema at (920) 382-1518 , email [email protected], or visit bdloavesandfishes on Facebook (in development). To volunteer, visit https://bit.ly/loavesfishesbd.