Community Meal still gaining momentum as one-year anniversary is observed


The Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian Church in Waukon was filled to near capacity Monday, September 28, which marked the one-year anniversary of the Free Community Meals which are served in Waukon from 5-7 p.m. the last Monday of each month. Standard photo by Bob Beach.

The first of many free community meals was served September 29, 2014 at First Presbyterian Church in Waukon. One year later, what started with a single conversation that led to an idea, which led to more conversations about free, no-strings attached community meals, has now experienced a full year of success. Throughout the growth of the project, nearly 300 people have now been consistently attending the meals, which continue to be served the last Monday of each month at First Presbyterian Church in Waukon from 5-7 p.m.
While First Presbyterian Church has served as the meal site for the past year, many other area churches and community organizations have contributed to the success of the meals. Karen Carlton, a member of the core group that started the community meals program in Waukon, said that First Presbyterian was chosen for the meal site not because it is a church, but because it is well suited to the purpose.
First Presbyterian Church Pastor Grant VanderVelden said that his church at first committed to a six-month trial period as host for the meals, which was later extended to one year. “We expect to keep doing it at this point,” VanderVelden said. “It has worked out quite well for us. There are not a lot of places in town where something like this can be done.”
Carlton said the idea for the community meals originated with an understanding about poverty issues in the area, but it soon became apparent that many in the area suffer from what she called “social poverty,” referring to those who don’t normally have anyone to share a meal with.
VanderVelden echoed Carlton’s sentiments about the kind of poverty and hunger the meals address, from physical hunger to what he called the “relational hunger” of those who normally eat alone as well as young families who don’t often get to sit down together for a meal. “You forget that people are hungry for a sense of community and building relationships,” he said. “People hang around after the meal to talk and socialize, and that’s a really nice thing to see happening.”
“At first, I wasn’t certain how people would respond, but since the beginning, I’ve just been standing back in amazement,” Carlton said. She reported that the first meal served approximately 170 people and the success of the meals has continued to grow, with the number served approaching and sometimes surpassing 300. VanderVelden said that he has been pleased and surprised by the turn out as well.
While organizers don’t pressure anyone for donations, Carlton said that many groups and organizations - not just churches - have been very generous with their support, adding several organizations have recently been added to the rotation to provide the meals, including Northgate Care Center, Good Samaritan Society and New Life Christian Church. She added that the Allamakee County Dairy Board has generously provided milk and ice cream for the meals and the Allamakee County Cattlemen’s Association has donated money to buy beef for the meals.
“It’s been an amazing learning experience,” Carlton said, adding that the most notable thing she has learned is how generous the Waukon community is. She said that a fundraising “push” would be made in December to help cover costs, such as getting federal non-profit status and insurance.
VanderVelden said that he has been very appreciative of the help and support of area churches, groups, organizations and businesses that have gotten involved in the community meals and encourages other groups to consider pitching in to help.
“I’ve been just awed by how this has been working out,” Carlton said.
 

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