#CovidStories: St. Timothy's in #ColumbiaHeights
Ten years ago, St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church started a free community dinner on the second Tuesday of the month. Sharon and Ron Hamen have been volunteering at this monthly event for as many years. This community service was started by the church’s former pastor who noticed a need in the neighborhood: hunger. Now, years later, this service has been sustained by three volunteers cooking meals and about 15 volunteers serving.
However, when Governor Walz executed the shelter-in-place order for Minnesota on March 26th due to the COVID19 pandemic, these volunteers pondered how they could continue to provide this even-more-than-ever essential service for our neighbors. So on April 14th, they transitioned into a drive-thru, as is quickly becoming the trend for many service providers.
With this altered formatting, the majority of volunteers for this project shifted from serving the meal to making the meal since they aren’t convening inside the building anymore. Before social distancing measures, these were sit down dinners and would serve 80 to 100 people, providing comforting hot dishes in the winter and refreshing cold meals in the summer, being sure to keep it nutritionally balanced. The State has always required that at least one of the workers be certified in ServSafe; and now with the social distancing measures, they were directed by Anoka County to provide completely cold meals. Now, recipients get their choice of sandwich: ham or turkey, or a vegetarian option. Sides include potato chips, fruit, carrots, and a homemade dessert. Volunteers approach cars, while wearing masks, and take the orders as another set of volunteers retrieves the prepackaged bags of food and delivers them to the cars. In April, St. Timothy’s served 180-190 people at their first drive-thru ever.
Pastor Michelene, Communications Coordinator Laura Fix, and volunteers Sharon and Ron allowed me to photograph their drive-through meal on May 12th. They even graciously gave me one of these delicious food packages. Am I “in need”? I am presently experiencing relative financial privilege, so I wouldn’t have thought to visit the drive-thru myself. But Pastor Michelene tells me these meals are open to everyone, no matter if you consider yourself “in need” or not. Pastor Michelene calls the initiatives a “ministry of outreach” which is about hunger… AND community and connecting.
Pastor Michelene laughs while she tells me how she tries to smile using her eyes as she walks from car to car to greet people while wearing her mask. She offers “soul care” for those who are interested. As a secular humanist with hurtful experiences in religious settings, I felt deeply comforted and encouraged to see this kind, spiritual community focus on such a basic, universal human need with no other agenda.
St. Timothy’s cannot send home leftovers to the public per regulations; though, there is an exemption during this time to allow them to “send home” food with recipients. Official “leftovers”, however, are generously donated to Life Prep Academy in Spring Lake Park (a high school and residence serving youth experiencing homelessness) and SACA (our local food shelf). Since St. Timothy’s volunteers typically prepare 300 meals, there is always the opportunity to pass on the surplus to help even more people.
The volunteers shared with me that the dinner initiative doesn’t receive any funds from the State, the County, nor even the church itself. All funds have been specially donated for this specific initiative via St. Timothy’s website and through personal donations from the congregation and community members. If you would like to help fund this initiative, navigate to St. Timothy’s website, click donate, and select the allocation field for community dinners. And if this wasn’t enough, St. Timothy’s is also making cards to include with the diplomas of graduating high school seniors in Columbia Heights. I feel very proud of humanity and our local community as I witness countless examples of how we are caring for each other in this trying time. Let’s not wait until the next pandemic to do this again. Thank you, Pastor Michelene, Laura, Ron, Sharon, and all the St. Timothy’s volunteers for caring for humanity.