Church ladies cook up heavenly community meals

by Chris Studor

Let’s face it. Coming up with a dinner solution every night of the week can be daunting – not only for those who lead busy lives, but for those who have difficulty managing their way in the kitchen.

For those who live in Hinckley Township, however, the task just got a little easier thanks to the kitchen helpers at Our Saviour Lutheran Church.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately a dozen or so volunteers have been gathering at the church kitchen where they spend a day slicing, dicing and preparing a free meal that members of the community are able to order ahead of time and pick up the next day at noon.

The best part? The meals are on the house. While donations are accepted and appreciated, they are not required.

The community meal was founded by church member Donna Rice and the tradition has passed down to her understudy, Ruth McCaudy, who recently took over the project.

“It started out with us serving 20 or 30 sit-down meals at the church every month,” said McCaudy. “When the pandemic came, we decided to do a takeout meal instead and we are now up to [preparing] about 84 meals every month.”

On cooking day, volunteers from the church are spread out across the large kitchen and everyone seems to know just what needs to be done.

“We are a tight-knit group,” said McCaudy. “Our church is our family and the monthly meal is something we can provide for those who could use a good, home-cooked meal.”

During the month of May, the menu featured a gourmet burger, deviled egg, Portillo chopped salad and a homemade sandwich cookie, McCaudy said. As she was preparing the eggs, one of the volunteers shared an easy method of peeling hard-boiled eggs used in the salad: Simply put the boiled egg in a coffee cup and gently swirl. The cracked eggshell will easily come off.

McCaudy said the Portillo chopped salad is a customer favorite. As one volunteer prepared two or three fully filled frying pans of bacon, another boiled a huge kettle of tiny pasta beads. In a side room, volunteers were assembling homemade sandwich cookies by taking two freshly baked cookies, filling them with delicious creamy vanilla filling, putting the cookies together and then rolling the edges in sprinkles.

Though the team took the months of June, July and August off, the community meal will again start up on Wednesday, Sept. 27, McCaudy said.

“Beginning this month, by calling ahead and making reservations, you can pick up meals such as barbecue pork, brat sandwiches, turkey and rice casserole, cabbage and noodles, meatloaf and even a gourmet hamburger,” she said, noting that several varieties of “fixings’” go with these main dishes, such as coleslaw, baked beans, macaroni and cheese and Portillo Chopped Salad, are available as well. Because no dinner is ever complete without dessert, the cooks always include an after-dinner treat, ranging from blonde brownies and German chocolate cake to pumpkin pie, orange poke cake, bread and fruit cobblers and homemade cookies.

Meals can be ordered directly from the church and the meals can be picked up the day of the last Wednesday of the month starting at noon. Guests simply to drive up to the front of the church, located at 1605 Center Rd., provide the name on their reservation and a volunteer hands them the number of meals they ordered, McCaudy said.

The community meals can be ordered at 330-278-4114 starting Sept. 1. ∞

Portillo’s Chopped Salad

1 cup ditalini pasta, cooked

1 pound bacon

3 cups romaine lettuce, chopped

2 cups iceberg lettuce, chopped

2 cups red cabbage, chopped

1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered,

1 cup green onion, sliced

4 ounces cheese or cheese substitute

2 cups cooked chicken, diced (optional)

Cook pasta, set aside. Cook bacon, cool and crumble. Combine romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, tomatoes and green onion in a large salad bowl. Add dressing just prior serving so it doesn’t get soggy.

Dressing recipe

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar (apple cider vinegar or white balsamic vinegar can be substituted)

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. sugar

½ tsp dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk ingredients together and pour on salad just prior to serving. ∞

Rita Ertman fries up bacon for the Portillo’s chopped salad that is routinely served as a side dish. Photos by C. Studor.

Lori Blueter delivers a homemade meal to one of the church’s monthly customers.

MJ Neel carefully assembles a homemade sandwich cookie. Photo by C. Studor.

On our cover (photo): The cooks at Our Savior Lutheran Church, including Church Coordinator Diana Wingate, Vicky Kilpatrick, MJ Neel, Jo Kanya, Donna Rice, Rita Erdman, Jan Maracz and Ruth McCaudy, take a quick pause from preparing meals as part of a monthly service the church offers to the community. Photos by C. Studor.