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Church ministry to open kitchen: Free meals to benefit those in need

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LOAVES & FISHES

Organizers of a free meal program at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beaver Dam are shown shopping for food online in the church's Fellowship Hall. From left are Louis Gregurich, Linda Smedema and John Smedema. The first drive-up meals will be served Aug. 2 from the church parking lot.

Area churches and volunteers are banding together to provide free weekly “to go” meals to those in need.

The effort already has vast support from the community, and beyond. Meals commence on Aug. 2, and will be held every Tuesday evening at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 311 W. Mackie St., Beaver Dam. They may be picked up between 4 and 5:30 p.m. by driving through the church’s parking lot off Beaver Street.

Meals are intended for those who need them, but are available to everyone regardless of income level.

The program is being administered through the First Lutheran “Loaves & Fishes” ministry, although efforts began with church members John and Linda Smedema.

“I told John he needed to get a hobby after his retirement and look what happened,” said Linda, laughing.

“For me it’s kind of based on my faith,” said John. “I’m trying to follow Jesus’ example of serving others. To me that’s a big part of his message.”

When John was working in Watertown he was looking for service opportunities and connected to a program at Watertown Moravian Church.

“They served a hot meal every week,” said John. “I volunteered there for two-and-a-half years.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic the church was serving 60 to 80 people a week in the church basement. During COVID that number, switched to drive-through pick-up, jumped to more than 400. After 13½ years of operation, the program has served more than 80,000 meals.

Closer to home, John and Linda looked for a similar opportunity, and learned of the Community Table at The Watermark Community Center. That program has not been held for some time.

“We did an investigation of what was offered,” said John. “I talked to churches that held meals in the past, and we felt that there truly is a need. We came to our own church, which has a commercial kitchen, and they were very receptive.”

They met Louis Gregurich, whom many may know from his work in the area, and he was highly interested as well.

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“We want to make good, wholesome meals,” said Gregurich, who received his training from Northern Technical College and has been in the food business for 22 years. “This is not fast food. This is a big opportunity to make sure that everyone is being fed. I don’t want anyone to go hungry.”

“I’ve been around food for a long time and I love what I’m doing,” said Gregurich. “I’ve also got multiple chefs from different parts of the country who are eager to participate. None of them are getting paid. It’s their way of sharing their talents with the community, and getting creative with whatever is available to them. For them it’s a chance to have fun and prepare some really great food. We’re all really happy to be a part of this.”

He added, “We’ll do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t come out of a can, but if it has to we’ll make sure that it tastes good.”

The effort is ecumenical, involving many area churches, to establish a core of volunteers and support. Backing has come from a number of sources including United Way of Dodge County, Horicon Bank, the Presbytery of Milwaukee, Klassen Quality Chocolates, Beaver Dam Area Community Foundation and other sources.

Recruiting volunteers is a hurdle, but people are eagerly responding.

“We sent out letters to area churches and organizations and some have already responded,” said Linda. “We’re hoping to get more, as it takes six to eight people a week to run things efficiently. We’re hoping to have enough people so we don’t have to rely on the same team every week. If someone can help twice a year that would be fine. It gives everyone who joins us the chance to interact with the community. A relationship is formed.”

Families can volunteer, along with local businesses, industries, civic groups and others.

“We’ve heard from churches in Waupun and Cambria that are eager to help,” said John. “It’s open to the entire area, and that goes for volunteers as well.”

Donations are always welcome, whether they be food, cash or supplies.

“Every penny donated to us is going to food and providing meals for area communities,” said Linda. “It’s not just Beaver Dam. It’s Horicon, Mayville, Randolph, Burnett, Juneau, Columbus, Waupun.”

A brat fry is coming July 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Food Pride and there will also be a car wash and bake sale at First Lutheran Church on July 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All are welcome to come out and support the mission.

Checks may be made out to Loaves & Fishes in care of First Lutheran Church, 311 W. Mackie St., Beaver Dam, WI 53916. For more information call John Smedema at (920) 382-1518, email smedes20@charter.net, or visit bdloavesandfishes on Facebook (currently being established). To volunteer visit https://bit.ly/loavesfishesbd.

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