Community Dinner Gathers a Circle of Friends
When Parkside Community Church started offering monthly dinners a couple of years ago, it was to provide a meal and a warm, friendly environment for people who were struggling financially. “But we quickly realized that finances were only a small part of what people needed in our community,” says Rodney Haveman, Parkside’s pastor.
He says that for single moms with kids or older parents with disabled children, the dinner offers a night off from cooking. And people who typically eat alone come to enjoy a meal with others.
Parkside members attend the dinners too, and friendships have developed between them and people from the community. This has opened up the opportunity for members of the community to be givers too. “One community member is now helping one of our needier church members with some financial issues and living concerns,” says Haveman.
He says the church’s community, Westwood, New Jersey, is “mostly blue collar or middle-class white collar. Our church is surrounded by apartments, homes, and businesses, but it’s a small town feel.”
They’ve gotten the word out about the dinner gathering, called “Circle of Friends,” through press releases, personal invitations, posters, and flyers posted in local businesses. “We've also reached out personally to our senior center, and we invited our community churches and synagogue,” Haveman says.
Dinners are held on the fourth Thursday of each month. “We are a smaller church, so doing them weekly would be too much for us to handle, but once a month seems to work,” says Haveman. He adds that they typically serve 45 to 50 people and also bring meals to a number of people who are homebound.
Parkside members Lew and Evelyn Trebour and George Tomko usually handle the cooking. Volunteers help with set-up, cooking, and clean-up. Another Parkside member, Diane Lomicky, organizes the volunteers, which include Boy and Girl Scouts, members of local high school clubs, and confirmation-class students from a few area churches.
The community also has responded with financial and in-kind donations. “The local United Methodist Church has supported the ministry with a few checks out of their FaithWorks thrift store, which has been a great help, and we've received support from local businesses like Shoprite,” says Haveman. “The library has helped us promote the dinners and the senior housing facility has volunteered van transportation for its residents to the dinner.
“We've always tried to partner with a variety of groups in every aspect of the ministry.”