Churches serve up home cooking at rotating dinner


Photo by Viviana Selvaggi

Jack Southard makes his own plate after serving the community members.

By Viviana Selvaggi

What’s better than a home-cooked meal? A free home-cooked meal.

Every Wednesday of the month, five congregations host a free meal for the Oxford community. The fourth Wednesday is the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church’s designated time.

Rev. Julie Fisher said volunteers alternate cooking healthy, quality meals at the different Oxford churches. This week, it was sloppy Joes. 

The dinner is open to anyone in the community. The church also provides takeout options including the opportunity to come inside to fill up to-go containers or curbside service from the church’s alleyway door.

She emphasizes that this is not supposed to be a religious event, rather just a safe, comfortable place for people to eat a meal. “No praying, just come eat,” Fisher said. 

Graphic by Viviana Selvaggi

The church also opens its pantry of personal care and cleaning products to the community. Items such as dish soap and laundry detergent, toothpaste, toilet paper, shampoo and Kleenex cannot be purchased with food stamps, she said.

Most people take around four items, she said. The pantry is filled by donations from church members.

“Most members or almost all members in the church make an annual pledge of varying amounts whatever they feel comfortable with,” said volunteer Jack Southard. 

Items for the pantry are purchased from Dollar Tree and Walmart, said volunteer Margaret Smith.

A handful of volunteers keep the meal running at Holy Trinity. Michele Ittel constantly checks the stock of the pantry, Sally Southard and Kip Colegrove prepare and plan the meal, Sally and Jim Gieringer lead and facilitate the entire meal and Rev. Fisher and Rev. David Guilfoyle support.  

“This is not just a food line,” Jack Southard said. “The idea is that we get to meet people and talk to them and get to know them, which in fact has pretty much happened.” 

By providing for the community, some volunteers have formed close relationships with Oxford community members. 

“If people start doing nice things for each other more often, we can make good deeds a habitual thing,” Colegrove said as he was walking back into the kitchen to help. 

Typically, pre-COVID, 30 to 40 people attended. However, since the COVID restrictions were lifted, the number of attendees at the Holy Trinity Community dinner slowly tapered off. 

“It serves those that want to come, and depending on the circumstances at the given time, there may be more people than less,” Southard said. 

Members of the congregation organize the meal and send out sign-up sheets for positions like preparation, cooks and cleanup crew.

“I would, at least two weeks ahead of time, have figured out what I would serve and what side dishes would go well with that,” Smith said. Her friend Jack Southard “runs a mean dishwasher,” she said.

 As with any home-cooked meal, leftovers may be the best part. 

“Any food or anything left over we have packaging so they can take home,” Southard said. “They’re very willing to take everything we got.”