It’s 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, and Monica Da Cunha Kehren has arrived for her weekly hostess duties at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Main Street.
For the past three years, Da Cunha Kehren is always the first to unlock the church doors and turn on the lights for the church’s weekly community food pantry and dinner.
The church has provided Food for the Soul every Saturday since 1997 with a community supper and food pantry. The program is a collaboration between volunteers from the church, as well as other Dubuque churches and the community at large.
Marcia Young is the volunteer coordinator.
“We have other churches that volunteer, as well as students from the high schools and colleges,” said Young. “We have 10 teams of cooks who rotate. They plan the menu and work with Mary Purdy (the food coordinator), who works with St. Stephens and River Bend Food Bank to order food.”
During COVID-19, St. Luke’s has shifted from a sit-down supper to take-out meals. Da Cunha Kehren said the guests miss the camaraderie.
“They all want to know when they’ll be able to eat together again,” she said. “It’s a very social time for them. They make friends that they may only see here once a week.”
“There was a table of seniors that always sits together,” said Young. “Another table of knitters. It’s a social time for them.”
The volunteers also provide activities for children, some of whom arrive unaccompanied by parents for meals.
“We color with them, read to them, just keep them busy,” Young said. “We let them take home books. We don’t know how they get here. We’re guessing they walk. But if they’re here, we take care of them.”
Amy Schadle’s team, consisting of her husband, Steve, daughter, Beth Lester, and grandson, Tanner Lester, were the team on duty on this Saturday. They prepared a take-out meal that included pork patty sandwiches, coleslaw and fresh fruit.
“We’ve been a team for three or four years,” she said. “Sometimes there are a few other grandchildren who come. But when hunting season starts, we lose a few. But they enjoy serving milk and coffee. They like talking to the guests, which they haven’t been able to do since COVID.”
Young and Da Cunha Kehren said they estimate they serve about 100 guests a week, all of whom receive a meal and can shop the church’s food pantry to take home items like bread and baked goods donated by Asbury Road and Dodge St. Hy-Vee stores, canned goods, breakfast cereals and other pantry items.
In addition to a weekly meal and the food pantry, the program helps direct people to other resources if they need them.
“If they need more, we direct them to where they can get free meals or find shelter,” said Da Cunha Kehren. “We have flyers with additional resources listed, and we are including those in the to-go meal bags now.”
Young and Da Cahuna Kehren said, far from being a free handout, most of the guests feel the need to give what they can to pay for what they’ve received.
“There will always be someone at the kitchen door asking if they can help with dishes or with serving,” said Da Cahuna Kehren. “And there will always be some who will stay to help clean up.”