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Athens comes together to provide meals for the public

Local organizations and churches have taken steps to help with food instability in Athens County by offering community meals periodically for both students and members of the community. The meals offer a place for local community members to not only sit and enjoy a nutritious meal but also socialize and connect with others.

With a poverty level of 20.9% in Athens County, according to the U.S. Census, food instability continues to be an ongoing issue within the local community. The student population of Athens is often prone to food instability, and it is not uncommon for students to deal with financial stress, which could have detrimental effects on academic achievement and involvement.

In order to combat food instability for both students and citizens of Athens, Ohio University’s Cats’ Cupboard, located in Baker University Center room 514, offers resources for students to donate and receive canned goods, meals and other necessities. The Cats’ Cupboard site also lists daily meals provided by local churches and organizations that are available to the public.

Listed by Cats’ Cupboard as one of the weekly community meals available to both OU students and Athens locals, United Campus Ministry (UCM), located on 18 N College Street, offers open Wednesday lunches (noon–1:30 p.m.) and Thursday suppers (5– 6:30 p.m.). 

Baskets of food sit in front of Cat's Cupboard on the fifth floor of Baker University Center. The pantry offers a full stock of food available for anyone in need while receiving weekly donations.

The organization recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary of providing free and accessible meals to the community and hopes to continue to do so for years onward. With a firm “no questions asked” policy, the volunteers at UCM work to feed as many members of the community as possible and offer members of the community a positive atmosphere to sit and work, socialize or relax.

“Yes, the effort is to address food insecurity, but (it's) also about community building,” said Ari Faber, the outreach director for UCM.

In order to provide two nutritious meals a week, accommodate various dietary restrictions and avoid running low on dishes and ingredients, volunteer efforts and community partnerships are vital. UCM works with multiple community organizations to sustain supplies and items needed for weekly meals, including Athens Food Rescue.

Athens Food Rescue picks up food with upcoming expiration dates from OU dining halls and markets and delivers them to UCM and other partnered locations. The salads, sandwiches and other food provided by Athens Food Rescue are paired with UCM’s weekly meal budget to provide balanced meals to whoever comes through the open doors biweekly. These efforts allow for UCM to offer both pick-up and sit-down meals to further accommodate community members. 

The importance of having sit-down meals was further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and revealed community meals are not only about feeding the community but connecting with locals as well.

"Athens County has one of the highest poverty rates in the entire state, so there is a great need,” Faber said. “Especially with the pandemic, we saw how isolation affected people. Having somewhere where people can gather and interact has been a great need.”


The exterior of United Campus Ministry, 18 N. College St.

UCM also works in partnership with The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in offering monthly meals to the community. Volunteers and members of The Church of the Good Shepherd, located at the heart of OU’s campus at 64 University Terrace, gather on the first Wednesday of each month to serve lunch to the campus and community. The Church of the Good Shepherd has been serving the community meals for over a quarter century.

“About 25 years ago some of the older ladies in the church saw a need and started (serving lunches) once a week on Wednesdays,” David Burton, the overseer of Wednesday lunches and the sharing cabinet, said. “I think at one point there were about 100 people a week (who were served).”

After the initial hit of the pandemic, The Church of the Good Shepherd had to temporarily pause serving hot lunches and began giving out sack lunches on the porch. The impact of the pandemic not only had an impact on the food being served but on the sense of community and the meals offered as well. 

“So many people came (to Wednesday lunches) for the fellowship and for meeting other people here,” Anne Walker, a member and volunteer of the Church of the Good Shepherd, said. “That was not filling that need, just (a) sack lunch. It fills the tummy but not the heart.” 

The Episcopal Church now serves monthly meals and is working to continue serving the community post-pandemic. Along with monthly meals, The Church of the Good Shepherd keeps up with a food pantry cabinet on the front porch of the establishment and a thrift shop open during office hours.

The community meals around Athens serve a wider purpose than filling stomachs by offering Bobcats and Athens locals alike a place to connect with each other over a warm plate. 

There are multiple ways to get involved in helping out with food security in the community, with information on what can be donated to Cats’ Cupboard as well as volunteering with UCM and The Church of the Good Shepherd in cooking, distribution and clean up of community meals. The quickest way to begin helping out is to contact Burton or Faber.

“We pride ourselves in this denomination on especially being a welcome church, and a safe place for anybody,” Burton said. “We don’t ask anybody questions. We’re not judgmental. If you want or need a safe space to come, if you need a hot meal, you’re more than welcome, and we’ll be glad to see you.”


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