by Marichel Vaught; photos by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — On a cold snowy Thursday afternoon, my colleague and I entered the rear entrance of Trinity Church’s Fellowship Hall and were immediately greeted by the aroma of home cooking and a buzz of friendly chatter. Once the steam on my glasses dissipated I could see smiling faces enjoying meals at tables and at the front of the room, apron-clad volunteers ladling hearty soups into bowls. Every Thursday, a group of dedicated community members and church parishioners arrive early to cook up the community meal that is served between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Trinity United Methodist Church on Main Street.
According to Dick Smith, who has been volunteering since 2003, the luncheon serves 95 to 115 people weekly with the help of 8 to 10 volunteers. The group preps the meals on Tuesdays and then returns to Fellowship Hall Thursday mornings at 7:30 a.m. to cook.
A community food pantry is also made available where anyone can help themselves to basic groceries and personal care items. Bread and fresh vegetables are also available.
The church receives donations from Panera, Shaw’s, Friehofer’s Bakery Outlet, Pete’s Greens and many more local businesses and farms. “Everything we make is fresh and homemade,” said volunteer Rosanne Gray. The recipes are their own personal recipes. The menu changes weekly and on this particular day, the offerings consisted of three soups — turkey with vegetables, split pea with ham and corn chowder. Guests could have one, two or try all three. “Our goal is for people to have more than enough to eat here. And for them to take food home with them to eat later.” An accompaniment to the soups was corn bread made by volunteer John Snell.
Something the group is trying to emphasize is that these are meals for everyone in the community. There’s a stigma to free meals provided by churches — that they are merely soup kitchens providing flavorless sustenance and calories to those who desperately need it. The Trinity Church lunch is more than that, as are the weekly meals provided by the Unitarian Church, Bethany Church, Christ Church and St. Augustine’s. They encourage community members, regardless of economic backgrounds, to come to the lunches not only to try the delicious and healthy dishes but also to connect with one another — nourishing the body and the soul. There is no requirement to pay but if you have the means, donations are welcome.
Guest Drew Sciria said that the meals paint a beautiful picture of Montpelier. They provide some food security and companionship.
The lunches are currently being spearheaded by Rosanne Gray who, according to volunteer Chris Lackey, is “like the Energizer Bunny. She does the work of 15 people.”
Gray, who works a full-time job, not only manages the lunches, she also organizes Ida’s Closet which is also located inside Fellowship Hall. The literal closet, which was named after the parishioner who started it, contains clothing and accessories that anyone is welcome to. The items are specially picked. “If someone has a job interview and needs an outfit, we can provide them with a whole ensemble,” said Gray.
I asked Gray why she does this. She said, “I love it. I promised myself at age 50 that I would give back to the community.” And the community is grateful. Gray recalled a couple with a baby girl who had just moved to the area. The husband had a part-time job, which he lost. They were hesitant to come to the church for the free meals and food pantry items, but Gray insisted that it was ok — that they were more than welcome to anything they needed for however long. Gray learned of their situation and the sort of work the husband was looking for. Through word-of-mouth, he was offered a full-time job. His wife was able to get a part-time job and they found excellent daycare for their daughter. Now, the couple donates food monthly to the church as a way to give back and show their appreciation.
In August 2016, the church’s basement completely flooded causing major property damage and loss. The basement housed the Trinity Church Community Thrift Store of which all goods were destroyed. All of the food pantry items were wiped out. Over the following months, volunteers and parishioners came together to help rebuild the basement — a testament to the importance of the space to the community. New shelves have been built and are restocked. Inventory for the thrift store is growing again.
Free community lunches are available at the following locations:
- Mon.: Unitarian Church, 130 Main St., 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
- Tues.: Bethany Church, 115 Main St., 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m.
- Wed.: Christ Church, 64 State St., 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
- Thurs.: Trinity Church, 137 Main St., 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m.
- Fri.: St. Augustine Church, 18 Barre St., 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
- Sun.: Last Sunday only, Bethany Church, 115 Main St. (hosted by Beth Jacob Synagogue), 4:30–5:30 p.m.