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Essex faithful provide healthy meals, fine company, that strengthen community bonds

The word "hunger" most often brings to mind a need for food, but many people hunger for something other than a meal: They hunger for companionship, community and connections.

When Essex clergy and community leaders got together to discuss how best to address those hungers, they came up with Essex Eats Out, a program that provides healthy, free meals in a warm, safe and inclusive atmosphere. With the support of a grant from Heart and Soul, Essex Eats Out began in 2014.

Edmundite Father Charles Ranges, pastor of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction and St. Pius X Parish in Essex Center, was one of the founding clergy members. "People come because they like the food and they like the company," he said. "It's great food, great conversation, great people who make you feel at home."

And, he added, "It's a great ecumenical effort."

The meals take place on Fridays from 5:30-7 p.m. On the first Friday the meal is at First Congregational Church; on the second Friday at Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish Hall and on the third Friday at St. James Episcopal Church. On the fourth Friday the meal takes place at Essex Methodist Church, and on the fifth Friday at St. Pius X Church.

Father Ranges attends the meals at the churches he serves, and he greets people, begins the meal with a blessing and spends time visiting with guests.

"It's an opportunity to spread the good news," Ranges said.

On Dec. 11 the meal at Holy Family Church featured ham, rum-raisin sauce, mashed potatoes, succotash, roll and dessert.

Church members provide and serve the food when the meal is at their church; some food is purchased with donated funds.

The meals are open to everyone; some people are socially isolated and enjoy the company of others, some are "nutritionally deprived," and some are poor, Father Ranges explained. "It's serving a real need in the area . . . . People are coming out for it."

Rides can be arranged for those who do not have transportation.

"It's a great ecumenical ministry that reaches out into the community to offer a free meal to people who need it in any way," said Monica Morano, a parishioner of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish and a volunteer with Essex Eats Out since it began. "It's not meant to just feed people who are hungry."

She noted that it's a way for elderly parents to eat out with their children, for seniors who would otherwise be alone to share a meal with others, for families who want to dine out together without a large expense. And of course it is for people who are homeless or "on the edge for food."

"I get a lot of joy" being a part of Essex Eats Out, she said. "I love working with other churches and being part of a ministry that reaches out to other people."

According to Jennifer Knowles of St. James Episcopal Church in Essex Junction, the Essex Eats Out administrative assistant, on average there are 100 guests at each dinner.

"The program has been highly successful and continues to grow," she said. "More community members, civic and school groups have stepped up to volunteer as well as church members" who set up, serve and clean up.

John McMahon of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish is a co-coordinator with Morano for the parish, which provides when it is their parish's turn.

Volunteer chef Michael Kiessling does the menu planning and initial preparation for the St. Lawrence/Holy Family meals.

"This is one way I can volunteer my time to the community, for the lonely and needy amongst us," McMahon said. "It's an incredibly important social justice work to be doing with a wonderful tie-in to the parish."

He recalled one meal attended by four "clearly homeless" people. They thanked the volunteers for the meal and left with some leftovers.

"I can assure you of the need for these meals for the lonely or those on the streets," McMahon said. "They really need this meal."

Essex Eats Out provides a model that other communities could use to meet the needs of those in the community who are not only in need of food, but community connections, Knowles said.

For more information, go to www.essexeatsout.org.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer

Last modified onWednesday, 27 July 2016 16:31
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