For 11 years, 572 Saturdays, nearly $72,000 an average of 7 volunteers served lunch to over 60, 000 members of its community from the halls of a local church; on Saturday, September 10th, Fashion For a Cure (FFAC) decided to share their vision.
Armed with coffee and vitamins, we arrived at 11am eager to make sandwiches and be a part. Upon our arrival we were introduced to the volunteers of Bethlehem Community Church’s Brown Bag Lunch. The program had minor setbacks as they attempted to located supplies that were lost in the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Once everything was located we were handed gloves and put to work. While making sandwiches we were able to converse with the other volunteers. They were so welcoming and we even got some music to enjoy! They answered our questions and directed us with words of encouragement and compassion. After the sandwiches were made, we assist in putting the lunches together.
Before members of the community came to into the church, we were able to sit down with the program coordinator and ask her a few questions about the program.
Interview conducted by:Kay Marie for Fashion For A Cure and Eleanor Davis – Program Coordinator
Fashion For A Cure: First, I would like to thank you for giving us access to your facility and the opportunity to participate in serving the community. We know that you have to get back to the program so we’ll jump right in.
Eleanor Davis: Ok, but you all are always welcome, thank you for coming out.
FFAC: Let’s start with telling me more about the program; give us a background about it.
ED: Well it’s a pastoral vision, starting in the year 2000; we have been feeding the community population. It is a brown bag program, it is not a sit down service, they come in they get their lunch and they leave. Lunches consist of a turkey ham and cheese sandwich, snack, and a drink. Sometimes when we have a little extra money we try to get fruit.
FFAC: That is amazing. Who does this program service? Is this catered to a specific demographic?
ED: We service the community where the church is located; our biggest population is children. We have a lot of children, a lot of single parents that come in for a sandwich.
FFAC: Let’s talk about your service population; you said you service mostly children correct?
ED: Yes our biggest population is children, but I’ve notice within the past year we’ve had a lot of men. I guess it’s because of the rate of unemployment and they don’t work. When you look around our community, we are in a area where there is a high drug rate and gang activity. So we service everybody, drug addicts, Bloods, Crips, whoever comes.
FFAC: What does your staff consist of?
ED: Staff has remained the same, we lost a few people but we gain a few more. The entire (church) congregation is dedicated to this program because it is an outreach, it is an opportunity to serve and be a blessing to the community at large. Also to do what the Bible says: When I was hungry you fed me.
FFAC: As the old saying goes, “It takes a village…” When servicing the community, how do you avoid the people that try to take advantage of this program?
ED: In the beginning we use to just give sandwiches, until we found out they were abusing it, now we have a system, you sign in and we try to give them a quality a meal.
FFAC: How do you financially support the program?
ED: It is supported by the church. We do not get any federal or state funds; just strictly money that comes through the congregation on a weekly bases.
FFAC: How much money is spent to maintain this weekly program?
ED: We use about $125 a week, we could use much more but we what we can do with what we have. I’m a bargain shopper and we service them every week with fresh products.
FFAC: Where do you all shop for products?
ED: We use stores in the community, Western Beef, ShopRite, Pathmark, but we use Western Beef a lot. We’ve been using them for 11 years.
FFAC: 11 years is a long time to use a store! That’s remarkable customer loyalty. Do they sponsor or contribute to the “Brown Bag Lunch”?
ED: No, again we finance everything ourselves.
FFAC: We will see what kind of assistance they can offer you. 11 years is a long time.
ED: That would be greatly appreciated, thank you
FFAC: What would you consider outstanding about the program?
ED: The thing that is outstanding about the program is that we are all dedicated to it. I can only speak for myself when I say “I don’t do it out of any obligation”. I just realize that this sandwich is important to a lot of people. Especially for the children, I feel like I have to be there for the children, every Saturday.
FFAC: So the program is ran every Saturday, for 11 years? That 572 Saturdays, wow!
ED: Yes, every Saturday, and out of 11 years we’ve missed 4 Saturdays. 3 times was because of the weather and one time was a social affair for our Bishop that we all wanted to support. We just don’t not come. We take Saturdays off because we all need a break but we don’t just not come, the program is never just shut down, just to be shut down
FFAC: 11 years ago when you all first started the program, what were some of your goals?
ED: Basically to spread the gospel, we wanted people to hear the Word of God. We wanted to draw people into the church because it is a community church and they do not come on Sundays, but they’ll come on Saturdays. They consider this their church. We may not be meeting the goal of developing a larger congregation, but they’re here on Saturdays. And for me, worship is worship whether they’re here on Saturday or Sunday. They’re hearing the Word and they’re being fed naturally; that is my goal.
FFAC: How far does the service of this program expand? Do you have plans to service outside this community?
ED: The church recently purchased property and we are looking to expand the building. In the new plan for the building there is a facility for the dining hall. The goal is to have kitchen where we can expand the program to serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
FFAC: That sounds like it will be extremely beneficial. While working in this program, what is one thing you have learned or experienced, good or bad?
ED: Not to judge people. Some of these people may not look like church people, but they are people. We have embrace the fact that they are individuals and they all come with different personalities, attitudes, but all they want is for you to do is be nice to them. My goal is to treat every last one of them with respect. We don’t get any rebuttal from any of them. I believe it is the approach the adult takes with the children and even with another adult. If you approach a person with disrespect then you are going to get disrespect.
FFAC: I noticed when you sat down, one of the community members came up to you with the biggest smile and start conversation, as an observer that was fulfilling to me. What would you consider the most fulfilling part of this program?
ED: The fact that they accept us. They do not see us as a threat and we don’t want to be, but you know sometimes “church people” can be very intimating and turn people away. I think that the most fulfilling part to me is that they see us as a part of their community. And that is what we want to be. It is comforting to know that they have someone they can come to; sometimes they have no one to talk to or no one that will stop to listen. I think for me personally, I am like the neighborhood Grandma, so I like that. (laughter)
FFAC: When running nonprofit you often running into dilemmas or problems. What is one that you all have seen over the 11 years?
ED: Money, that is all. If we had more we can do more. The lunch could be more or could even be done more often. I would love to come out one day during the week and hand out snacks after school. Maybe not a whole lunch, but a snack. Children always like to have a little something to come home to; my grandchildren did.
FFAC: We’re coming to an end, and to wrap it up, is there anything that you would want readers to know about this program that we did not discuss? I know we covered a lot of ground, just any closing remarks?
ED: It is an open program, and college and high school students have used this as internships. I want it to always be opened to people who feel like they want to serve and they can feel free to come here. It is open, we don’t discriminated, you can come and help, we can use the help.
FFAC: In the event that someone wanted to volunteer or make a donation of any kind, where can they contact you all?