For nearly 20 years, Weyauwega’s Community Dinner has provided food and fellowship.
On the first Monday evening of the month, people gather in the hall outside of First Presbyterian Church’s fellowship hall.
Jerry Kennedy jokes with them and makes sure each person who arrives receives a number.
That is because groups of 10 people enter the fellowship at a time.
“Give me one through ten,” Kennedy said Monday, Feb. 3 when it was time for this month’s dinner to begin.
He and his wife, Joanne, began helping with the dinner about 15 years ago.
“She volunteers in the kitchen and drags me along,” he said.
Many who were first in line are quite familiar with the routine.
Among them were Ethel Doede, of Weyauwega.
She has been attending the dinner since it started and says she has not missed many.
“It’s just a place to go, to see our friends,” she said.
Sitting next to her as they waited for the 5 o’clock to strike was Shirley Davidson.
Davidson and her husband, Ken, of Weyauwega, have been going to the Community Dinner for a couple years.
She enjoys socializing and “someone else’s cooking.”
The Community Dinner is free and open to all. First Presbyterian Church hosts it.
“The real intention is food and fellowship,” said Sharon Koenigs, who co-chairs it with Judy Wiesman. Both are members of the church.
Sheri Reindl chaired the church’s Fellowship Committee at the time the dinner began.
She thought about how some people in the community were having a difficulty feeding themselves.
One night, Reindl reread the Matthew 14 scriptures about Jesus feeding 5,000 people.
In verse 16, after the disciples asked to send the people away so they could buy food, Jesus said, “You give them something to eat,” she recalled.
That verse resonated with her.
She had not paid particular attention to it before, because it was overshadowed by the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Reindl saw it as a clear directive and approached Rev. Anne Caughran, the church’s pastor at the time, and asked her about starting a mission project of a community dinner.
The idea was to host a free meal with no religious service, information or solicitation, where all were welcome, whether they were hungry for food or company.
With $200 in seed money from the church, the dinner began.
For about the first two years, Sandy Rogers helped Reindl cook the meals, and Lafaye Ireton provided the dessert every month.
The seed money was returned to the church, and others followed to keep the program alive.
“It started small with maybe 10 or 12 people,” Wieseman said.
Initially, the dinner was served in the church basement.
When the church’s fellowship was added in the late 1990s, the Community Dinner moved to that space.
The dinner today
Today, an average of 70 to 80 people are served each month. Several years ago, the dinner hit a high of 140 people.
The dinner is held from 5-6 p.m. on the first Monday of the month, with the exception of July.
Volunteers opted to not have a dinner in July due to conflicts with the July 4 holiday.
Congregation members from First Presbyterian Church handle five of the dinners.
Last year, volunteer cooks from that church served a total of 852 meals.
Members of Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic, in Weyauwega, and members of St. Peter Lutheran Church, in Weyauwega, take care of two dinners each.
The other two dinners are prepared and donated by Weyauwega Health Care Center and Lakeview Manor.
Each dinner includes a main dish, salads, dessert and beverages.
Koenigs said at First Presbyterian Church, members of the congregation sign up to help.
For this week’s dinner, Judy Behm spent much of Monday making the three different chicken noodle soups that were served.
The meal is free, but donations are accepted.
A donation box was added years ago at the request of those who attend and wanted to give something for the meal they ate.
As a result, the program is self sustaining, said Wiesman.
Twice a year, volunteers look at the program’s account and discuss how to much to donate to the Weymont Food Pantry.
Wiesman said people do much of the prep work in their homes.
The church is also the host of the senior nutrition site Monday through Friday, which means volunteers have access to the kitchen after 2 p.m.
Members of the Weyauwega-Fremont High School chapter of the National Honor Society also volunteer, and Helen Jarchow, a retired elementary teacher, takes care of decorating and setting the tables.
Wiesman said the congregation of First Presbyterian Church is small but generous and provides wonderful salads.
Kennedy said many people go to the dinner to socialize with others.
“And the food’s usually pretty good. It’s a good thing,” he said.
The volunteers in the kitchen always tell those in charge of the meal to plan on having at least two large roasters full of the main dish.
“And we pray,” Wiesman said.
One aspect of the meal Rev. David Johnson likes is the fact people are sharing their gifts with others.
Johnson, of Waupaca, began going to the dinner about four years ago.
He learned about it from members of First Assembly of God Church, in Waupaca.
Johnson and his wife, Joyce, attended the dinner together.
She passed away 15 months ago. Today, friends often join him for the meal.
“We were in ministry together 40 years,” Johnson said. “I still have a servant’s heart and want to help.”