It is more than a meal site. On this Saturday, there are about 72 people in the fellowship hall of Two Rivers United Methodist Church. Most have a meal before them. A few are still in line. It’s a hot, good meal. It could find its way to any middle class dinner table in the city. Yet it is more than this. It doesn’t take long to realize that this isn’t about food, it’s about the people.
After the meal, people can go through the line again to get fresh produce. This is a recent addition, and much appreciated. Another time through the line, and people can pick up prepared meals or baked goods from Hy-Vee.
There is a crew of four working in the kitchen. They have been there since 9:30 a.m., and a couple of them were there the night before getting things ready. They will probably be here until about 2:00 cleaning up.
This isn’t a particularly busy Saturday. Sometimes there are fewer people. Sometimes there are more. On the last Saturday of the month, there is definitely more. That is the day they call “Operation Safety Net.”
On these days, there will be more to give away. Every month there will be prepackaged bundles of food and hygiene bundles of soaps, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. Every once in a while there are household items. All year the church collects small appliances, dishes, and blankets. When there is enough to be spread around, they give it away. They are working on clearing enough storage space in the over 100-year-old building to store larger items like tables and couches to help families get started in new homes. Occasionally there will be laundry detergent and diapers. Those are the big-ticket items. People are noticeably excited when they find out there is laundry detergent and diapers.
There are a lot of people that make this happen every week. Two Rivers United Methodist Church is not a big church. Worshipping between 80-90 on most Sundays, most of the volunteers are members, but not all. And there is no way this Saturday meal site could happen without the dedication of a few key people.
There are Dave and Ellen. They are married. Fixtures on Saturday, they pick up a lot of the items donated by Hy-Vee and do the shopping at Riverbend Food Bank. “Without Dave and Ellen, the whole operation falls apart,” says Robb McCoy, pastor of Two Rivers. “Their commitment and compassion is truly inspiring.”
There is Claudia. She collects coats. She does more than collect them. She collects, washes, sorts, and stores winter coats, hats, gloves, and scarves. If there is someone cold in Rock Island, it is because they have yet to meet Claudia. She talks to area schools to see what they need. She taps a mother on the shoulder and ask her if her kids need a coat. She will notice the teenager who came in with only a t-shirt and subtly ask him what size he is. She will see the man who is 6’3″ and probably has trouble finding coats that fit, and she’ll find him one to try on.
There are Dick, Kala, Brianna, Kevin, Emma, and Abby. Three generations that come together to serve. Theirs is the third Saturday of the month. So they are there with the same meal they have been cooking for several years. It is a favorite, so they don’t want to mess with it. Grandfather, two daughters, son-in-law, and two grandkids. Some families spend Saturdays on softball fields. Not this one.
There is Ruth. Ruth bakes up the scrumptious homemade desserts every week, sometimes seven different kinds. Everyone loves Ruth and her wonderful treats.
There is Frank. He’s in his 80s, and sometimes he can’t make it, but he hates it when that happens. He wants to keep moving, keep active, keep serving, “because who knows what will happen if I stop,” he says with a chuckle.
There are more people. Every Saturday has a different crew. One of the weeks it is a solo cook who is also caring for her aging mother. Another is a pair of sisters and their families. Another is an Augie professor and a pharmacist. Every week, they are there.
People slowly trickle out. There hasn’t been any problem. It is loud sometimes, but it’s almost all laughter. There is a crying kid or two. They get distracted and stop crying like kids do. As they leave, some people want to pay. That is refused.
Some people want to stay and help clean up. That is accepted. One of the patrons packs up to-go boxes to bring to friends who cannot get out of their homes. There is enough help this weekend, but there might not be enough next weekend. It will get done, but a couple of regular helpers are out of town, so that means someone (probably Dave and Ellen) are going to have to do a lot more than usual.
That is the answer to the question, “What is the most important thing the meal site needs?” It’s not money. It’s not food. It’s all about the people. People indeed. This is clearly more than a meal site. It is a people site.
If you’re interested in helping, it is simple. Fill out the form below, or call 309-788-9384 and tell Brianna that you want to help with meal site. She’ll tell you to come at 10 a.m. and report to Dave to work for the next four hours. He’ll tell you when and where to come into the church at 1820 5th Ave in Rock Island. He’ll give you a few jobs to do. You will probably help fix the plates, then help distribute the Hy-Vee items, then help sweep and wipe tables.
It may be intimidating at first, but smile, and remember: It’s about the people. And now you’re one of them.