United Church of Rogers Park hosts ‘community feast’

Posted on: December 4th, 2013
Members of the United Church of Rogers Park host a "community feast" every Sunday to create a sense of fellowship among those who are in need of food. Photo courtesy of Judith Kline

Members of the United Church of Rogers Park host a “community feast” every Sunday to create a sense of fellowship among those who are in need of food.
Photo courtesy of Judith Kline

Every Sunday for the last 30 years, the United Church of Rogers Park has made sure that Chicagoans have had a place to go for a hot meal — and the Thursday of Thanksgiving is no different.

“Our first soup kitchen was [Sunday] Oct. 7, 1984. … We had 10 people,” said Judith Kline, soup kitchen coordinator for the church. “Now, we serve anywhere from 80-120.”

Kline — who has been a member of the church for 40 years — said the idea to start a soup kitchen came from one of her church groups. Together, the group wanted to target and fill a specific need at the church. After visiting a neighboring parish’s soup kitchen, Kline’s group realized that this was not only a major need at the United Church — located off the Morse Red Line stop — but that it was also feasible with the church’s large kitchen.

“We felt very called by God to do it. [And] we all agreed to support each other on what we felt called to do,” Kline said.

Instead of labeling its weekly free meal as a soup kitchen, the church has since referred to it as a community feast. According to Kline, this was done to create a sense of fellowship around the meal and to help make those who come feel more welcome and not as if they are in a regular, systematic soup kitchen.

“A lot of people come and they don’t want to feel poor or needy,” Kline said. “The idea was to avoid the soup kitchen thought. We have tablecloths. You sit down and we bring you your food. We try to treat them more like guests.”

Most of the food used for the meals is provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository — a nonprofit food distribution and training center — and through government donations. Kline said the church also receives individual donations from church and community members.

According to the church’s website, community feasts are served each Sunday at 5 p.m., but preparation begins at 2:30 p.m. and requires a minimum of eight volunteers. The hall used for the meal is on the third floor of the church and can hold 110 people. However, Kline said volunteers typically plan to serve 120 people and they have never run out of food. And if there are any leftovers, Kline said she makes sure guests have the chance to take some food home with them.

For the church’s Thanksgiving community feast, which took place Sunday, Nov. 24, this was no exception. The number of guests reached 150, but Kline said they were still able to provide leftovers to those interested. This was due in part to the 13 turkeys and various sides and desserts prepared by more than 30 volunteers, Kline said. To accommodate the increased holiday attendance and reduce the crowdedness, the church served two dinners. One dinner was served from 4-4:45 p.m. and the second began at 5 p.m.

Unlike many Chicago soup kitchens, the United Church never opens specifically for Thanksgiving Day. Kline joked that by doing this guests can eat their share of turkey before getting sick of it on Thanksgiving, since more soup kitchens are open that day and all serve similar turkey meals.

For soup kitchens around the nation, Thanksgiving is the day when people flock to volunteer. Kline said she get lots a more calls from people who want to volunteer at the Thanksgiving meal (since it’s not technically on Thanksgiving) than any other Sunday. But Kline said the church needs people year-round, not just on the holidays.

“We actually don’t need Thanksgiving volunteers. People don’t always realize that organizations need volunteers all the time, especially in the heat of the summer. Come summer time, we are desperate for [volunteer] hours,” she said.

For those who do volunteer, Kline encourages them to sit and talk with the guests. She said not only do the guests appreciate the company, but the volunteers also gain a new perspective on understanding those who are less fortunate.

Kline said the community feasts are not just attended by the homeless. Some attendees have health issues that have caused them to lose their jobs, some live in group homes or nursing homes and others are just looking for a way to cut living costs.

“It helps them make ends meet. You can’t find a way to cut back on rent or on other things. But you can find a way to cut back on the food budget through food pantries and soup kitchens,” Kline said.

Students looking to volunteer at the United Church of Rogers Park community feast can fill out a volunteer form or contact Northa Johnson, community feast volunteer coordinator, at (312) 955-0049.

Loyola University Chicago's Social Justice Web Portal is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. Comments will be screened for tone and content. All comments must include the first and last name of the author and a valid e-mail address. The appearance of comments on the Web Portal does not imply the University's endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.

Comments are closed.