Monthly community meal offers comfort, company

by Kristin Wedemeyer Goss

A group of about 50 people of various ages gathers in the late afternoon on the last Sunday of each month at the First Congregational Church in Twinsburg. Some come alone, others with family. Most live in Twinsburg; a few come from Macedonia. All of them are drawn to the church by its free community meal, a monthly outreach ministry started in March.

“Our community meals have seen a mix of those who are financially on the margins as well as those who may be OK financially but in need of companionship,” said the Rev. David Zerby, First Congregational Church pastor. “Some would be considered working poor, some unemployed and some facing homelessness. The Twinsburg area is not immune to having residents who face the challenges of food insecurity. I imagine the number of people who are experiencing hunger in our area is even greater than we are aware of.”

The U.S. Census Bureau counted close to 1,800 Twinsburg residents living below the poverty level. Nearly one-fifth of Twinsburg City School District students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the Public School Review.

Parishioners of First Congregational Church dine with visitors during the church’s monthly community meal. Pictured are (left, f-b) Stephanie Grecar, Lillian Blair, Elaine Stopar, Dee Gibbs; (right) Tom Grecar, Phyllis Bandera, and Darlene Dressig. Photo by K. Garred

Members of the congregation, along with friends and neighbors who show up to lend a helping hand, prepare and serve the meals. Food donations come from Costco, Panera, Gordon Food Service and the Akron-Canton Food Bank. The meal program also receives financial support from members of the church and community. Zerby said that First Congregational works closely with Good Shepherd Christian Church in Macedonia, which offers free community meals on the first and third Sundays of each month.

 “We hope as word spreads that more people who are desiring a safe place to share a meal and fellowship will join us,” he said. “We’ve served about 50 meals each month, but we can serve more.”

Zerby added that anyone in the community who wants to help with the meals is welcome.

“We are also blessed to have a community where there are neighbors who look out for one another,’’ he said. “The desire is to connect those in need with those who are in a position to help. Working and serving alongside one another to address the challenges of poverty is something we can do together.”

First Congregational Church, with its white spire and clock, has been a part of Twinsburg’s landscape since 1848, but the congregation that eventually erected the “church on the square” predated the building by more than a quarter-century. Zerby said the community meal is an example of the congregation’s continuing commitment to serving others.

“This church sees outreach to the community as a key component to living out its Christian faith,’’ he said. “We’re a church that truly believes no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here and will be loved and affirmed for who you are. Our location on the town square affords us the opportunity to be a hub of community activities, and we welcome more possibilities of partnering with our neighbors.”

The next community meal will be served July 28. It is free and open to all.

Featured image photo caption: Parishioners of First Congregational Church in Twinsburg serve free community meals on the final Sunday of each month. The new program is meant to encourage area fellowship as well as provide nourishment to individuals and families in need. Pictured are: (front, l-r) Shari Schultz, Gayle Davet, Terri Bissell, Lisa Davet and Sharon Baughman; and (back) Bob Davet, Rich Bissell, Bill Adams, Claudia Lillibridge and Marge Adams. Photo by K. Garred