Emanuel Lutheran Chuch, Yelm, WA

Free Dinner

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Prep for the free dinner begins Monday, when a volunteer comes in to get everything ready for Tuesday’s meal.  This week, volunteer food ministry leader scored 2 turkeys from the food bank.   Sierra and I arrived early to help with the final steps of serving this food.  Vi along with other volunteers were busy in the kitchen.  We were quickly put to work:  Sierra carved the turkey while I set-up tables and chairs, laid out the centerpieces (simple: colored sheets of paper with a mismatched salt and pepper shakers).  With all the extra help, there was time to interview the food ministry leader.

The “Dinner with Pastor Jerry” began as an idea expressed by a youth after church one Sunday.  She thought there should be a dinner where everyone was invited to sit and break bread together with Pastor Jerry.  And so was born the Tuesday night dinner.  Scott, the food ministry leader, who also volunteers with other local food banks, including Yelm Prairie Christian and Crossroads, gathers all the food for the dinner.  Tonight, we were having his latest find: a full turkey dinner complete with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and salad.  For dessert, an assortment of pies and cakes were laid out on a separate table.  Scott’s teenage daughter and another youth member served the food to the line of folks, some church members, some people just needing a hot meal, some who come for the company.  It’s a pretty low turnout.  Some nights, they serve almost 70 people.  ON a night like tonight though, plenty of leftovers will be doled out in to-go containers: lunch for tomorrow!

Scott said that what they experience is a “rural setting with urban issues.”  Without the resources that come with being an urban hub, times are tough.  Sometimes, the church can barely pay their electricity bill.  The community has responded well to the work the church prioritizes in the community.  After 10 years of free dinners and other services—the church acts as an unofficial shelter—they’ve only experienced theft or physical violence for the first time this year.   With only 6 beds in Yelm available and stringent eligibility standards, this unofficial shelter has saved lives.

We eat with the group after Pastor Jerry explains why we’re there and blesses the meal.  He said he likes to keep it quick since some folks aren’t there for the prayer.  Many folks filled out surveys and everyone was very welcoming.  They shared with us information about other free meals around town and the best food banks.  Once again, most folks have significant transportation limitations.  A few carpooled there, which is great!  It’s really beautiful to see folks in the community coming together to share time, space and a home-cooked meal.

After dinner and clean-up, Pastor Jerry took us on a tour of the new building, funded by a grant through _______, an emergency shelter and food storage space.  Pastor Jerry would like to work with the Mayor of Yelm to have some sort of law that the codes go out the window in a state of emergency.  My question is this: is it not a state of emergency when people are without food and safe housing?

Thanks, Pastor Jerry for the work that you and your ministry do in our community.  Also, thanks to the Tuesday Night Dinner crew for welcoming us into the safe space you have created where everyone can come together for a meal.

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