In Athens, many local establishments have opened their doors to those in need, one being the Athens First United Methodist Church.
Located near Ohio University at 2 S. College St., the church has started a lunch soup kitchen held Mondays.
“We’ve been serving the community for a long time, and I think that this is another really good way for the church to be continuing its ministry,” Rick Bongiorno, a volunteer for the lunch, said.
The luncheon consists of volunteers serving in the food preparation area, food service area and food cleanup area.
These volunteers typically serve a healthy entree, vegetable of the day, tossed green salad and fresh fruit salad in addition to other side orders. There’s also several choices of many desserts and drinks, including coffee, tea coffee, milk, juices and water.
“The church is the sole sponsor of our soup kitchen however we do receive food from the Southeastern Ohio Foodbank that I purchase from,” Tom Murray, a lead organizer of this event, said in an email.
Another way the luncheon provides food is through several donations from the church and other organizations.
“We receive donated food weekly from several nonprofits including Athens Food Rescue and the CFI (Community Food Initiatives) that we will incorporate into our meals,” Martha Sloan, a volunteer for the lunch, said in an email.
Along with donations of food, many in the church and around the Athens community have also donated their time.
“We have a strong regular group of volunteers, usually 14 to 16 regular committed volunteers, most of which are church members, but we also have volunteers who do not belong to this church,” Murray said in an email.
Those members of the community also include many OU students and alums.
“We have many volunteers not only in the church, but also OU student volunteers from service sororities/fraternities and occasionally high school student volunteers,” Sloan said in an email.
Murray said the church also provided food for those in need to take home.
“For the 15 months prior to COVID, we also provided weekly take home food provided by Athens Food Rescue and CFI, as well as fresh produce from the local farmers market as a take home for our guests,” Murray said in an email.
Now, due to COVID-19, the church has not been able to do this.
“The meal service is only a take home carry out service because of COVID,” Sloan said in an email.
Despite this, the church is still continuing to serve in any way it can.
“We pride ourselves on sticking to the luncheon and continuing it which has made not only us happy, but many others as well,” Bongiorno said in an email.
The luncheon is open to all, be it from the church or just in the community. The church is also offering lunches to those who just want a good meal as well.
“Our guests that attend Monday lunch soup kitchen vary from individuals with developmental disabilities, Ohio university students (international and US), retired faculty, individuals with mental illness and a few lower socioeconomic people and homeless,” Murray said in an email.
Offering to those outside the church has proven successful in bringing more people to help with the event.
“We do not discriminate on who may attend and include Athens County residents in addition to children in the school years,” Sloan said in an email.
With such a wonderful outreach, it begs the question if anyone has been brought to the church through it.
“I would not say that Monday lunch soup kitchen has added any volunteers into the church membership,” Murray said in an email. “However, we are just grateful to serve.”
Despite this, many of the volunteers are grateful for not only the luncheon, but for those who are giving their time.
“This ministry is not one that would drive someone to join our church,” Sloan said in an email. “We are really thankful for all of the volunteers and those who help the church.”