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United Methodist serves dinner

WILLMAR -- They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but the United Methodist Church in Willmar is proving the adage wrong.

The church is in its third month of offering a free community meal every fourth Sunday of the month at 6 p.m. in their fellowship hall.

"It's basically a free dinner that anyone in the area can attend," said the church's coordinator of parish care ministries, Susan Cafferty. "We don't ask anybody for anything. We just want them to come for dinner. This is not an evangelical mission, we consider it community outreach."

United Methodist also has "resource people" on hand from social services, healthcare and legal fields to answer people's questions and provide free consultations as needed. "We want to help people make connections to meet their needs," Cafferty said.

This month's meal of chicken parmesan with all the Italian fixings was served Sunday to 76 people, their highest turnout yet. They also gave out backpacks and school supplies to help families with those back-to-school needs.

Cafferty hopes the program will eventually become a cooperative effort with other churches to offer meals more frequently. "We realize it's not the whole answer to Willmar's needs, but it's a first step," she said. "It's a good start, and I think it will grow from here."

According to the Rev. Chad Gilbertson, two things led to the launch of their community meals program. "One: we do food well here," he joked.

"But more importantly, we were concerned with the results of the recent Wilder survey that showed a high percentage of folks in our county listing one of their main concerns as having enough money to buy food for the month."

Gilbertson referred to the findings contained in the United Community Assessment of Needs that took place over two years to identify the most pressing health and human service needs in Kandiyohi County.

Although he realized there were other organizations attempting to fill that need, the church felt that there's always more to be done.

"No questions asked, anybody can come and everyone is served," Gilbertson said. "No preaching, no pressure, just free food and conversation."

The next community meal is scheduled for Sept. 27 with a preliminary menu of spaghetti, Caesar salad and fruit. A "movie night" will follow the meal, with a family film projected outdoors for a fun drive-in theater experience, weather permitting.