As Farmington celebrates one year as a community meal site, they are seeing 250 guests every Wednesday.
“When we share food, we are sharing life and love.”
It was 4 p.m. on a brisk, sunny afternoon in Farmington and 10 cars had already lined up outside of Faith United Methodist Church, a weekly Loaves & Fishes community meal site.
Mealtime doesn’t start until 5:30 p.m., but on a Wednesday in Farmington this has become a way of life. Pastor Karen Evenson can be found bouncing from car to car, making sure everybody is welcomed, doing alright at home and has everything they need. This will be how she spends the rest of her evening until every last car has been served.
“She’s always out here, even when it’s cold,” said regular guest Patti. “Everyone is so wonderful here. This meal takes the edge off for one night. It’s just so nice to have a fresh, warm meal.”
It was a well-documented story that Loaves & Fishes partnered with Faith Church to start 2020 after Farmington’s only grocery store closed its doors last December, but a year later the community meal site has taken on a life no one could have seen coming.
“When the grocery store closed, I think the community realized there were already more people facing food scarcity in the community than they realized,” Pastor Karen explained. “That impacted a lot of people. Not only the physical fact that they couldn’t go to the grocery store, but we needed to find ways to be connected better.”
And connecting better is exactly what has happened. The first night at Farmington saw 67 guests come through the doors. As Faith Church followed other Loaves & Fishes sites and transitioned a to-go model in March, the number of guests soared. They now regularly serve between 200-250 guests every single Wednesday.
Pastor Karen’s husband Scott handles the cooking and assembly line of volunteers while she directs traffic outside.
“They can turn anything into a nice meal. Everything Scott does is great,” exclaimed one happy guest Tim.
Tim is part of the early arriving crowd and enjoys seeing his friends Mark and Lloyd. The three of them would arrive early in the summer and hangout at a picnic table together. For Tim, the community meal came at a time he really needed it in his life. An injury that put him on crutches for a good part of the year meant he was unable to work.
“This meal helps immensely. I haven’t been able to work the past year,” Tim explained. “Just to be able to come and get a hot meal has been great. Trying to bring food into my house and cook by myself on crutches was tough, so to be able to come get this meal helped so much.”
Lloyd brings tomatoes from his farm, Mark helps remember to bring the signs out, another guest Mary takes turns picking up meals with a neighbor, Bob picks up meals for a few friends and helps prep the salads in the mornings. The stories go on and on as the community lifts each other up.
“People are hurting,” said Bob. “This might be the only hot meal the people in this community get the entire week.”
The numbers and stories at Farmington reflect what the entire Loaves & Fishes organization has seen throughout 2020 and into 2021. In 2019, Loaves & Fishes served 1.3 Million meals and saw that skyrocket to 4.4 Million in 2020. No matter how big that number is, the organization aims to remember how important every individual meal is. Deb partners up with neighboring Farmington Lutheran Church to deliver to families from their congregation and was finding herself feeling cranky about a far drive last week. Then she saw a card left out for the driver.
“It said, ‘Thank you. When you bring this meal, I know it’s cooked with joy and love and I’m so grateful for you.’ It helped me change my attitude. People are so appreciative,” said Deb.
It’s those stories that make every Wednesday a day that head chef Scott looks forward to.
“In a year like this, it has been amazing to see how the volunteers and the community has stepped up to help each other,” said Scott. “Every time we turn around someone is donating something.”
As Farmington heads into year two with no signs of slowing down, Pastor Karen had to take a moment to reflect on a full circle moment. She had volunteered at one of the first two Loaves & Fishes sites back in 1982, at just 12-years-old.
“When I was younger, I thought about it as we were feeding people who were hungry,” she explained. “Now my understanding is, we don’t only need a meal to fill our bellies. We need a meal to fill our souls.”