Dorothy Kiester has enjoyed the community dinners at East Main Presbyterian Church so much that she invited her friend to come along.
“It’s the best dinner around,” said Gladys Tarr, who has been attending for about a year.
The two ladies live at Orchard Manor in Grove City, and they were among the crowd Wednesday night to mark the church’s 10th year of Open Door Community Dinners – that’s more than 34,000 meals.
“We cook for 200 generally,” coordinator Kris Lambert said as she surveyed the busy kitchen at 120 E. Main St., Grove City.
Lambert and her husband, the late Allen Lambert, and Dick and Ruth Leo started organizing the dinners in 2009. There were 18 people at the first meal.
The dinners are held from 5 to 6 p.m. every other Wednesday in Fellowship Hall at the church, with the exception of special church events like Vacation Bible School.
Everyone is welcome. You don’t have to be a member of East Main, and there is no cost, though a free-will offering is accepted.
“People have been very generous,” Lambert said of the donations that fund the meals.
The next meal is set for May 8. The hall entrance is toward the rear of the church off of Poplar Street, and it is handicap accessible.
Wednesday’s menu featured salad, meatloaf, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, fresh bread, drinks and cupcakes.
More than a dozen tables were decorated for springtime, and each guest received a small treat bag of Easter candy.
Music played while people gathered at their favorite tables and volunteers lined up at the kitchen window.
The first round of orders are prepared for delivery to people in the Grove City area who are unable to make it to the church.
Those families typically include parents busy with a newborn, someone recovering from injury or illness, or homebound residents, Lambert said.
People can also call ahead to pick up a meal from the church, and the current menu is recited on the church’s phone recording.
Dorothy McMillen, who has been volunteering since the dinners started, said she loves seeing new people come for fellowship.
“They look forward to being here,” she said as she scooped up some green beans.
The volunteers – there are about 40 regulars – have a good time together, arriving early to cook and staying late to clean up, said Susan McConnell, head cook.
“And we could always use more volunteers,” McMillen said, noting that volunteers don’t have to be members of East Main.
The dinners meet the community’s physical, spiritual and social needs, McConnell said.
“God takes it in its own direction ...We’re very fortunate to have a lot of people believe in it,” she said.
Before Wednesday’s meal started, volunteer Jim Dixon thanked the Lamberts and Leos, and he introduced East Main’s associate pastor, Eric McEwan, who led the group in prayer.
McEwan later said that he’s been with the church since August, so the dinners have been a great way for him to meet new people.
Bruce Smith, chief server, said that more people attend every year as word continues to spread – especially when people find out about the tasty meals like the meatloaf, chicken, pork, and pasta.
Ten years ago, the country was coming out of a recession, and people were hurting financially. That inspired the dinners, and the ministry has continued to grow, Lambert said.
They’ve added things like outreach from Grove City Medical Center staff – doctors and nurses have attended some dinners to talk to residents about various health topics, which has been well-received.
Dennis Maclay of Grove City has been enjoying the dinners for seven or eight years. He loves the ham, and likes making new friends.
Volunteer Taylor Hunker helps with serving, and she likes having an opportunity to socialize.
“I really enjoy building relationships,” she said, taking a short break from pouring drinks.
Frankie Seethaler of Mercer started coming to the dinners on a regular basis a few years ago after a friend invited her.
“It’s a great place to be,” she said.
As the meal wrapped up, Lambert stood near the main entrance, thankful for another successful event. When she gets a free moment during the meal, she watches the crowd quietly, taking in their interactions and God’s blessings.
“That really is the best thing about it,” she said.
For more information about the Open Door Community Dinners at East Main Presbyterian Church, 120 E. Main St., Grove City, call 724-458-8270.