People Gotta Eat

by Melanie and Jim


One of my favorite quotations is from Mother Teresa. She said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, just feed one.” In other words, we all have the capacity to make someone’s life better, even if we can’t change the world.

Sometimes our impact is through a kind word or gesture. Other times we literally feed someone. Today Jim and I had the opportunity to do something more rare. We fed a hundred.

Several times a year the Johnson County (Iowa) Democrats and OFA (Organizing for Action) prepare and serve for the Free Lunch Program. The program provides a free hot meal six days a week to anyone who shows up. On average, more than 130 meals are served a day. There is no obligation, no expectation, and no religious or other preaching. From the website:

Respecting the dignity of the guests has been the cornerstone of its service. “An open door, a full plate, no questions asked.” This guiding principle of unconditional respect and hospitality has been as integral to the program as the hot, nourishing meals.

We have helped with this service for a couple of years. Our roles have varied from meal prep, to serving, to clean-up. It takes more than a dozen people to pull this off. Today we had a crew of seven to fix the meal, and we helped with the prep. I stirred up two big pans of cornbread, helped with the dessert, and readied three large bowls of greens for salad. Jim and I also got the dining room ready, moving chairs from tabletop to floor, and wiped tables off.

The menu today was a popular one we’ve used before: baked chicken thighs with barbecue sauce, baked beans, cornbread, two kinds of salad, hard-boiled eggs, and peach crisp. It was good to use a familiar menu, because we were in an unfamiliar location.


It was fun to see the faces of some other volunteers as they came into the new facility. The former location was in the basement of the Wesley Center near downtown. It was the home of the Free Lunch Program for 30 years. The kitchen was small and very crowded. One large center island served for food prep and storage of dishes, cups, silverware, hot pads, etc., in the compartments below it. The serving room was full each day. Storage and freezer space was in three different locations. Equipment was on its last legs.

The new location has ample room in the kitchen and in the dining area. There is new and donated equipment to make the work easier. There is a lot of shiny stainless steel. Front doors unlock automatically at 11:30 and re-lock at 1:30. Folks come in and head for the bathrooms and then some hot coffee. Serving starts at noon. Any food leftovers are offered for take-home.

It is a wonderful change from the cramped and dated space before. Mary, the person who has been in charge for the entire time of the program, is beaming with happiness about the new facility. She feels she has accomplished her primary goals and announced her retirement from the position last September as work progressed on the new location. As of today, no one has been hired to fill her post. They had better get moving. Mary deserves a break from her years of hard work.

This post may be an unusual addition to the list, but we are linking up with the Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday. We hope you all have a great weekend, and next time you fill your belly with delicious food, please remember Mother Teresa’s exhortation. Because people gotta eat.


11 thoughts on “People Gotta Eat

  1. The Novice Gardener

    Not at all unusual, Melanie & Jim. I think it’s very inspiring. I would love to do something like this actually. I’ve made PB&J sandwiches with my kids at church for the soup kitchen but never actually been in the soup kitchen. It’s not the same. You guys are my role models! I want to be like you when I grow up. I’m serious. By grow up, I mean “retire”. Love you guys so much! XOXO

  2. Pingback: Fiesta Friday #2 | The Novice Gardener

  3. Robin Roseman

    That is a wonderful post about your experience last Friday. Would it be OK with you two if I sent a link to your blog-or a copy of your post- to our FLP volunteers and potential volunteers from the JC Democrats and from OFA?

  4. Pingback: Happy Valentine’s Day! (also Fiesta Friday #3) | The Novice Gardener

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