Every Thursday, all year round, Circle of Friends volunteers at Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, serve a free dinner for up to 80 people. They’ve been doing it for the past five years.
Circle of Friends began by handing out bag suppers in a park. “We started with three people that evening,” recollected Jeanne Ebens, who came up with the original idea and was the first coordinator. “That fall we decided to change the venue and host the meal in our church, and we have been serving a hot meal there ever since. We cook for between 55 and 80 people each Thursday evening.”
The majority of those who attend Circle of Friends are from the community. On January 9, for example, “only nine were from our church, including me and the other cook and our two helpers,” said current coordinator Hilda Nowochin.
There are many reasons why individuals and families make their way to Bethel on Thursday evenings. “Many elderly from the community, especially those who live on their own and usually eat alone, come for the socialization,” explained Nowochin.
Shirley, a widow who recently moved from Newfoundland, said she attends “because it’s a meal I don't have to sit and eat by myself.” The first time one couple attended the free dinner with their six children, they were living in a tent in the park, unable to find affordable housing. Hazel, a single woman in her sixties who is a member of Bethel’s Friendship Group, said she comes “to help prepare the supper, to help clean up, and for the good meals.” As for Theo, “I get so tired, it’s nice to skip the cooking. It’s nice to see my friends.” Leftovers are offered to participants to take home.
Six pairs of men and women from the church take turns cooking. Other set up tables and chairs, wash dishes, and clean up afterward. Costs are covered by the church budget, although occasionally food is donated. “If we run out of hamburger,” said Nowochin, “one of our church members butchers a cow!” Some regular attendees also make financial contributions.
Circle of Friends also goes the extra mile, literally, as it reaches out to the community. Volunteers will deliver the Thursday-night dinner if they hear of someone who is sick and unable to attend. They also try to arrange transportation for those who want to participate but cannot drive.