Free community dinner goes down well for many in need
St Paul AME Church opened its doors for a free community dinner this week, continuing its tradition for the needy and unemployed.
The church’s Rose Bell Missionary Society hosted its first meal specifically for the jobless a year ago. Tuesday night’s dinner brought about 50 together in the Centennial Hall to forget about their troubles.
Former Willowbank Hotel worker Romonda Davis, 31, said she held out little hope for the Island’s economic situation to improve.
“It’s hard for me right now, because I’m not working and I have to raise my little one on my own, with the help of my Nana and others,” said Ms Davis, who was there with her three-year-old daughter Destiny Wade. “We came here tonight because we’re members of the church and it fills the hole.”
Destiny’s godmother Carla Smith, one of the missionaries at St Paul, joined the two for the meal.
She recalled last year’s dinner for the unemployed in the church hall on February 20.
“I was ministering to the people that came that day,” she said. “The funny thing was, I was working at Gibbons Company and I became unemployed that day as well.”
She considered herself lucky that she had since found a job at Tucker’s Point.
“I see a few familiar faces here tonight,” she said, looking around at those gathered. “Any time we reach out, the word gets around. Friends and relatives tell friends and relatives.”
The meals are served according to the honour system, she explained.
“If they don’t need help, it doesn’t matter,” said Ms Smith, adding that the aim of the event is to give people a sense of peace.
Wearing blue shirts, the missionaries aim to have one of their ranks at each table to “let people know everything’s going to be OK”, she said.
“This year we got a grocery table and second-hand clothes. Even though it’s hard times, we’ve had a lot of help from companies. They’ve made unbelievable donations. We are trying to do more. We want to be a bigger charity and we hope that the word gets out.”
Because of its city location, the church’s meals tend to attract members of the community within walking distance.
Said Missionary Society president Madree Lindsay: “This is our outreach to the community. Because we know times are tough we’re trying to help those who are unemployed, those who feel down or low, and give them words of encouragement. We gave two of these dinners last year. The idea is helping our fellow man, helping them to see Christ through us.”
She added: “I believe that if you give a man a plate of food, after three hours he’s hungry. But give hope, give him the provider of the food, then he has got somewhere to go when he is hungry.”
Explained new St Paul AME pastor, Reverend Nicholas Tweed: “Our philosophy is we take responsibility for our community. We want people in the community to care, and know that we are trying to make a difference, and understand that some of us face challenges. It’s our duty in the church to serve our people. What better way than in this small way — to serve a food meal in a safe environment, in the hope that they will be encouraged?”
One of the night’s guests, who asked not to be identified, said: “When you’re in need, that’s human nature, you get help. When I’m not in need, I’ll leave it for the next person. If I can afford a plate on my table, I won’t come here. That means someone else gets the benefits.”
He pointed to a takeaway box: “I’m taking something for somebody else that can’t make it.”
The diner added: “A church is a church. I believe in one God. If all the churches pulled together as one, the community would be better. At the end of that day, I would say amen.”
Sitting nearby with guests, missionary Suzette Butterfield-Gowrie said: “People in need don’t have to belong to this area. If we know of families that are struggling, like with school clothes, we’ll help them. St Paul also does an after-school homework programme at Victor Scott Primary School. It makes you feel good. People need food, and they also need spiritual food. This way they can get both.”
Telephone the church office on 292-0505 to assist.