At Brook United Methodist Church, we are always looking for ways to serve and be of help to our friends and neighbors. In 2010, there was a big Youth Fellowship group who always seemed to be eager to eat every snack available at the weekly meetings. So Pastor Sue Beckett and youth leader Marshall Whaley recruited Beth Kindell and Carol Whaley to prepare a meal once a week for the young people to enjoy. Betty Myers also helped. This eventually expanded to include families. We served the meals in the church basement where we had tables and chairs and highchairs filled with moms and kids.
In a year or so, things transitioned in Brook. The grocery store had closed and the food pantry at Brook First Christian Church closed. It was discussed at an early October, 2012, meeting of the United Methodist Women’s group that we might be living in a food desert here in Brook. Different ideas were presented, but the recurring theme was that our group could provide a weekly meal here at our Brook United Methodist Church. We didn’t have the right setup or room for a food pantry, but we had the perfect kitchen and dining room for community meals. The UMW voted to serve one meal per week on Thursday night and donated some money for startup. It would be open to anyone, whether a member of our church or not. No matter what town they lived in or what their circumstances, all would be welcome.
We asked and got donations from Murphy’s Food King of Kentland of bread and also grocery bags. Strack and VanTil of Rensselaer donated outdated bakery goods, and Rose Acre Farms donated eggs. We have never had a fundraiser for this ministry. People have just generously helped and donated money over the years and have kept the project going. The same is true of workers.
People just showed up to help from the very start and our crew formed and remained faithful throughout the years. Bonnie Strole and Judy Hancock fixed drinks of coffee, water, and milk. Jerry Johnson and Rick Gerts were our official greeters and served the main course and veggies. Peg Lawrence served salads. Judy Washburn, Beth Kindell, and Carol Whaley were the cooks. Don Washburn and Annelies Roggeveen served desserts. Donnie Parrish handed out eggs and bakery goods and bread. Pastor Ken Marsh, and then Pastor Chauncey Lattimer, welcomed people along with Brook UMC’s various pastors.
The ladies of Brook First Christian Church made tons of homemade noodles for chicken and noodles and brought in desserts and helped in many ways. There were many other people who helped make this all come together. Some of our most generous donors are not members of our church. Visitors who see what we are doing and want to help or contribute have been a blessing and encouragement to us.
We feel this is a “God thing”. One of the pastors shared a quote that is appropriate. “Attempt something so big that unless God intervenes, it will fail.” So as long as we have money in the pot, people who will come and work, and people who come to eat, we will continue to serve. At around the seven-year mark, we had served 29,500 plates of food.
It kept going at that pace until 2020 when the pandemic hit, and we were prevented from serving a big group of people indoors. So we needed to regroup and take stock of what would be possible. The Cooper family was willing to take on the responsibility of planning, purchasing groceries, and preparing the weekly meal. Because they were one family unit, they were uniquely positioned to prepare the meal safely. It was decided the meal would be boxed and handed out the kitchen door, so no one would need to come into the building to receive a meal. This transition from indoor sit-down meals to drive-through took about 15 minutes discussion after the last indoor meal. Did we want to discontinue the Thursday night meals—NO! Would the Cooper family be willing to do the job—YES! Deal done. We are nothing if not adaptable, and the meals continued without interruption.
People responded to the drive-through concept in an overwhelming way. We went from serving around 40 to 60 meals per week to sometimes over 300 meals per week. No one but the Coopers know the planning and logistics of preparing a meal for that many drive-by customers. Just getting that many carryout boxes filled and ready to go at one time is mind boggling, to say nothing of planning the menus, buying the groceries, and preparing the food. They have it down to a science. Since the pandemic started almost a year ago, an amazing 10,436 individual meals have been served (as of 1/28/21). This would not have been possible without the help and prayers of many, many people. We are thankful for the opportunity to serve our friends in this way and we hope we have been a blessing to our community through this ministry.