June 27, 2012 - In every community, there are loads of volunteer opportunities, but surely the noblest among them involves feeding the hungry.
The Free Meals program at Oxford United Methodist Church (OUMC) is offering folks the chance to help nourish their neighbors by either serving or cooking food.
"I think it's very rewarding," said Director Colleen Richter, who helped found the program back in July 2009. "I think it really helps the community."
Every Wednesday between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., the church, located at 21 E. Burdick St., serves a big dinner – free of charge – to a variety of local families and individuals, all of whom need a helping hand and a full stomach.
"With the way the economy is, people are trying to choose between making their house payment, paying for food and paying medical bills," Richter said. "Receiving a free meal once a week (makes for) one less bill they need to worry about."
"People are very appreciative," she continued. "We have seen a tremendous amount of people who are interested in receiving the meals.
"We usually range between 35 and 55 people. It changes throughout the year. In the summer, the numbers are a lot lower. We probably average 40 or 45, if you look at the whole year. But it can vary in a season. Within the last month, we had one (dinner) with 29 (people) and at the next one, we had 55."
Richter noted the program has "a lot of regulars" now, which has added a whole new dimension to things.
"There's a sense of community at the meals," she explained. "People all sit together now and converse. They get more out of it than just the food. They get some social support as well."
In order to keep things going, Richter needs some volunteers. She's looking for two or three people to volunteer as servers once a month.
Servers generally work from 5-7 p.m. and their duties involve setting up the chafing dishes and beverage station; serving the actual meal in a cafeteria-style manner; and helping with cleanup responsibilities such as washing dishes and putting away tables and chairs.
Those willing to volunteer as substitute servers are also welcome to sign up.
"At the beginning, I had a pretty large list of alternates, people who would fill in as needed, but it seems like a lot of those (people) have either moved, lost interest or become volunteer servers on a regular basis," Richter said.
Richter is also looking for one or two people who are interested in cooking on the fifth Wednesday of the month, which occurs once every quarter.
Cooks are responsible for planning the meal, purchasing the necessary groceries (for which they are reimbursed by OUMC) and preparing the food in the church kitchen. On meal day, cooks are usually there from about 2 or 3 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
Those interested in volunteering with the Free Meals program are asked to please call OUMC at (248) 628-1289 and leave a message for Richter.
Richter noted she's also looking for any local businesses who are willing to donate food – either prepared items or ingredients – to the program.
Italia Gardens along with the Sweet & Savory Bake Shop have been contributing for a while now.
"They've been doing that once a month since the beginning of the program," she said. "One week, Italia Gardens donates a big pan of mostaccioli (or salad). One week, Sweet & Savory donates dessert for 50 people."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.