The tables are set on Tuesday afternoons at New Providence Presbyterian Church. Hot food and good conversation are ready to be freely given. Volunteers are on hand to serve and visit with guests. From 5 to 6 p.m., the church at 703 West Broadway opens its doors to the hungry, homeless, lonely and needy. The Welcome Table boasts five-star hospitality that fills the discouraged spirit as surely as empty stomachs.
The Welcome Table at New Providence Presbyterian Church is a new ministry designed to serve a hot meal to anyone who walks in the door from 5 to 6 p.m. each Tuesday. Two years in the planning, the idea came from a need two members of New Providence saw -- though neither knew what the other was thinking.
Patty Quinn and Pam Bunde were the members instrumental in getting the initiative started after they learned a church that had been providing meals for the needy was going to have to stop.
“A church on Broadway was doing meals and couldn’t do it anymore,” said Quinn. She went to speak with Rev. Steve Musick, minister of outreach. At the same time, Bunde was talking to Musick about the need as well. He eventually got them in his office together and plans began to be made.
“It took us two years to get it organized and get every “I” dotted and every “T” crossed,”
Quinn said. They got permission from church’s session in June to start. “Then we looked at each other and said ‘Wow, we’ve worked on this two years and now we had to actually make it happen.’”
The church hired a coordinator, Jeff Hutchison, who is now serving out his term. He said it appeared to him the focus of the church was to fulfill a need by being there for people. “In the process, we feed them,” he said.
Quinn and Bunde also went to the church for additional help. “We wanted to know if we had the support of the congregation,” Quinn said. “We went to Sunday School classes. When we talked to everybody, we had over 100 people wanting to volunteer. We were thrilled.”
They started serving meals in early September. “We started with 19 people, and we’ve served as many as 60. We have high hopes for more. We’re taking it as it comes, and we hope people will come,” Quinn said. “It’s absolutely amazing. Some we know, some are new, and they keep coming back. Some are hungry, and some are lonesome. We have served people from every walk of life. One of my neighbors came. She was lonesome and just needed a meal. We only use first names. We don’t want people to feel uncomfortable.”
“It’s made with love,” new Welcome Table coordinator Tracey Fair said. Fair, a trainer with Texas Roadhouse Alcoa, said the restaurant weekly donates the bread and the vegetables to the program.
The table opens at 5 p.m. and volunteers serve from 5 to 6 p.m. People come in and volunteers give them nametags and then seat them and get their beverages.
Musick said the Welcome Table volunteers’ motto comes from Hebrews: “Don’t hesitate to offer hospitality to strangers. In doing so, many have entertained angels unaware,” he said.
The minister said the entire initiative is done in such a way that both the volunteers and those they are serving enjoy themselves. “We want it to be fun -- fun for us and fun for the folks who come,” he said.
Musick said it’s more about the hospitality than the food.
“The food wouldn’t taste as good without the love.”
More than 50 showed for dinner the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving. The large room where people were seated had tables adorned with brown tablecloths. At the far end of the room stood a table full of homemade deserts prepared by members of the congregation. While the normal routine called for everyone to dine buffet style, on this night it was family style, with volunteers bringing platters of food to the guests.
Those being served were thankful for the hot food and good company. Nell Kiger of Maryville said, “The food is so good, and the service is awesome.”
Her husband, Ed Kiger, agreed. “The food is good, the people are nice, and it’s convenient,” he said.
Sandra McCarty of Rockford praised those volunteers providing the meal. “It’s really nice people who will do this. You don’t get this. People don’t want to feed the homeless or lonely,” she said.
Bobby McDougal of Rockford agreed. “It’s good for the church to help people because God always helps people,” he said.
Victoria Clifton of Maryville appreciated the volunteers’ attention to detail. “This has been a blessing for me. It’s a wonderful place to come and fellowship. They even have toys for the children,” she said.
Clifton was thankful for the generosity of those providing the meal. “There just aren’t enough adverbs or adjectives in the whole world to say how wonderful this is,” she said. “It’s just such a blessing.”