Grace Lutheran Church in Sandstone, Minnesota is not only feeding the members of their community who are in need, they are providing them with a special experience that helps build relationships with one another and even learn new things. According to The Christian Century, the program, known as Everyone’s Table, launched in January 2019 as a free sit-down community dinner that resembles a restaurant experience for those with limited finances. The effort has been a huge success with meetings now twice a month.
The idea began in 2018 with Pastor Larry Johnson who was participating in a food ministry through the church that provides local underprivileged school children with backpacks of food each weekend. He soon felt called to do more, not only to feed the hungry, but to create a community in doing so. Thus, he founded Everyone’s Table and registered it as a nonprofit. While all are welcome, they focus on those who lack the financial means to go out for dinner at a restaurant. Their goal is not just to put food on the table, but to make the guests feel good about themselves.
According to The Christian Century, “volunteers personally welcome each guest. Others work as servers, reviewing the menu with guests, inquiring about any special dietary needs, and bringing drinks to the table. They often sit with guests to facilitate conversation among people who may not know one another. Other volunteers work in the kitchen preparing a delicious homestyle meal, which volunteers serve to the guests as if they were dining in a restaurant. Yet another volunteer crew handles cleanup chores.”
Still, Everyone’s Table offers an additional one-of-a-kind dining experience. Each dinner is themed, and guests receive informational handouts with quotes, stories, and facts as well as crafts that may represent the theme. For example, one meal that focused on India included guests learning about the different cultures and religions there. On August 6, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, guests received a handout about a survivor named Sadako Sasaki and one of 100 origami paper cranes made by a volunteer.
Volunteers have ranged from as young as age six to over eighty years old. Working together, young kids learn the importance of helping others. Everyone’s Table prepares the “restaurant” for 100 diners each time with a budget of $300. Leftovers either get taken home by the guests or are delivered to a facility that helps families transition out of homelessness. When restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the church to pause their dining experience, they still made meals for pick-up.
Everyone’s Table has combined food ministry with fellowship, and that has helped build a stronger community. Giving a special experience to those in need adds so much more meaning when the food they receive is enjoyed in the company of others. Grace Lutheran Church is providing such a unique experience that is building character and community like no other, and the blessings they all must feel participating in Everyone’s Table is sure to warm everyone’s heart.