This past June, UCM learned that Washington County Mental Health, for budget reasons, could no longer assign a worker to manage the Stone Soup Kitchen they had held weekly on Mondays at our church for about 25 years. Heather Slayton, the person who had provided the lunches for the last 5 years, was being assigned to other duties as of October 1. To complicate matters further, our soup kitchen regularly has closed for the month of July, and we learned that Bethany Church, which has for many years provided a lunch on Tuesdays, would also not be providing weekly lunches in July. The result would be no lunch on Saturday through Tuesday; lunches only on Wednesday through Friday.
Several UCM members thought that UCM serving no lunches in July would be a disaster for those in our community who rely on the weekday free lunches. We also thought it would be a disaster for UCM. Our mission says “we welcome all” and “serve human need’.
We were fortunate to find out that representatives of the churches in Barre and Montpelier that have provided assorted meals to their respective communities for many years, were having their first ever joint meeting in mid-June, just when we needed to find out how to do it. Dave Grundy, Janet Poeton, and Tina Ruth attended.
On the last two Mondays in June, an expanding group of UCM volunteers observed how Heather and
her two Green Mountain Work Force trainees prepared, served the meal, and cleaned up afterwards.
We would be on our own for 4 weeks starting on July 6. However, Heather and her crew would be back to split with us the weeks in August and September, before we took over the whole program for good starting October 5.
We began to attend the other lunch programs in Montpelier, asking a million questions, and getting lots of good advice about how to run a community lunch program. We also decided that we wanted to serve a delicious, nutritious meal every Monday, not closing for holidays or for the month of July as had been customary for years. We wanted to serve food as good and healthy as we serve in our own homes.
On the last Monday in July, we learned that Heather and her helpers would not be back at all, and we were taking over for good starting the next Monday.
The UCM Alliance lent us $300 to get us started. Heather gave us food in a WCMH freezer that she had intended for the UCM lunch. We learned about the gleaning program on Saturdays at the end of the Farmers’ Market, when farmers really don’t want to take home unsold food. They donate it to the Montpelier Food Pantry, located at the Trinity Methodist church. One of us goes there faithfully at a certain time every Saturday afternoon to pick up vegetables.
An angel appeared in the form of a representative from the 485 Elm Street Community Garden, who has brought us freshly picked veggies, greens and herbs virtually every week. We have become a VT Foodbank Network Partner, and have already bought 150 pounds of meat from them, some free, some very cheap. We learned we could pick up other foods for the lunches from the VT Foodbank, and have found wholesale suppliers who have given us very good prices.
We received a donation of a 2000 refrigerator, which is humming along in the UCM basement. The Hunger Mountain Coop gave us a $685 grant for a freezer, and UCM has put more electricity in the basement and built us a rodent proof and secure food closet there too. In addition we have received $620 in personal contributions and multiple “in-kind” donations.
Dave Grundy, Janet and John Poeton, Scott Hess and Tina Ruth have spent many, many hours working to get this project off the ground. We now have a coordinating committee consisting of those 5 and Fran Krushenick and Chauntelle Eckhaus.
Scott Hess and John Poeton have been our prime cooks with assistance from Ron Marion and Priscilla Fox. Dave, Janet, John and Tina are there all of most Mondays, setting up, prepping food, making sure everything gets done, being a “gofer” for last minute items needed.
Chauntelle Eckhaus, a new attendee at UCM, volunteered on some Mondays and contributed food from her garden, and then offered to set up a volunteer sign-up system on the internet. We now have a list of 42 volunteers, and an average of 16 of them work part of each Monday. Some spend a couple of hours, some stay from 8:30 until it’s all cleaned up in the afternoon, between 2 and 3 p.m. We usually have 2 chief cooks, 3 set up people, 3-4 food preppers, about 5 servers and a couple of runners to keep hot food on the serving table. It takes about 5 people to wash the dishes, clean up the vestry where food is served and eaten, and clean up the kitchen. Some people work at one job for 1-3 hours, others stay many hours and perform many tasks. People do whatever they have time for and want to do.
We send our volunteers a link to 4 videos on safe food handling furnished to us by the VT Foodbank. One of us, John Poeton, will take a one-day eight-hour course on safe food handling at the VT Foodbank on November 5, culminating in his taking a test that will certify him as a Safe Food Handler. We have printed materials regarding the safe handling of food at the Church for volunteers to read.
For financial reasons, attendance at the Montpelier lunches is always lowest on the first Monday, and rises toward the end of the month. We served 32 people on the first Monday in July. The last three Mondays in September, we served 75-95, and the first two weeks of October, 75 or so each week.
The UCM Social Responsibility Committee has awarded the proceeds of the Community Pouch for the month of November to the UCM Community Lunch, for which we are very grateful. We will receive that money after the last Sunday in November.
For years, Paula Gills has been playing the guitar and singing on most Mondays. She plays a variety of music, from folk to Motown. Our guests sing along with her, and some get up and dance. Our lunches have become a social occasion, and some guests circulate and talk to friends they see at lunches every weekday in Montpelier.
It is really heartwarming to be a part of this effort. Our guests tell us they love the food we serve.
We hope this will be an all-church project. It began too late to be a part of the church budget this year, so we are scrambling for donations of money, in kind, and of time. We expect the UCM Community Lunch to be a line item in the UCM budget next year. Now, as the season changes and the gardens die, it will become more expensive to provide meals. We have now served our one thousandth meal, at an average cost per meal of slightly over $1.00.
If you would like to support the UCM CL, please make a tax-deductible check payable to UCM and write Community Lunch on the memo line, or make the check payable to UCM Community Lunch. You can mail it to UCM or put it in the pouch on a Sunday morning. And contact Chauntelle Eckhaus at email@example.com to find out how to sign up on the internet to volunteer.
If you have any questions about the UCM Community Lunch, please feel free to ask any member of the CL Coordinating Committee: Chauntelle Eckhaus (456-1230), Dave Grundy (476-4300), Scott Hess (223-9924), Fran Krushenick (223-4824), Janet and John Poeton (433-1706), and Tina Ruth (223-4363).
Please feel free to drop by any Monday. Enjoy a fine meal. We serve lunch from 11-12:30. Come anytime after 8:30 and see how it all unfolds. Talk with our workers and guests. We can put you to work if you want to help. Come later and help us clean up. We hope to see you some Monday.
Tina Ruth, for the UCM CL Coordinating Committee