For Pastor Eva Steege, hosting a dinner for low-income and socially isolated people is not just about providing food.
It's about building a community that includes everyone.
That's what members of Grace Lutheran Church on Woodland Street sought to do when they put together a Christmas Eve dinner last week for about 150 people. Now the parish wants to make the dinner a weekly event.
"The idea is that people will come and share a meal, hang out and have conversations," said Steege, who has been with the church since 2005. "We want it to be a wide open, very welcoming sort of thing."
Steege said she was happy with the turnout at the parish's first community dinner on Friday. The basement of the church was buzzing with chatter and the sound of clinking dishes.
The event drew a wide range of people — some who didn't have family to share a meal with and others who didn't have food to put on the table, Steege said. The dinner was open to all.
The church used a community outreach grant from a former pastor to purchase the food. Members of the parish and other volunteers, like Peter Spungin, helped prepare and serve the meals.
"When you feed people, everybody gets happy," said Spungin, who runs a catering company in Bristol. "Everybody had a good time."
Grace Lutheran will host its next dinner on Jan. 14 from 6 to 8 p.m. From then on, Steege said, members hope to offer dinner every Friday at the same time.
The church will continue to use the grant to buy food, but is seeking volunteers to help prepare the meals. Volunteers are also invited to bring a dish to pass around.
The dinners would be open to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. Steege said she is exploring the option of including singing or other activities.
"We would like the people who come to help us map out and shape what those evenings would look like," she said. "If they want to have a poetry night, we could have a poetry night."
It's too soon to predict how many people would attend the dinners, Steege said, but plenty of hot meals will be provided.
"We'd like to see it grow," she said. "We want to build on the momentum from Christmas Eve."
For more information, call 860-527-7792.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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