Sharing God’s Love Through Free Meals

Sharing God’s Love Through Free Meals

More to Life churches have been sharing God’s love by giving a free meal to the lonely or those struggling with the cost of living.

More than 400 meals have been served up since the project known as The Table was set up nearly two years ago.   It was established by More to Life, a network of 12 churches across the North Hampshire Downs including Odiham, North Warnborough, Long Sutton and Greywell.    It’s a free two course meal, but also a chance to share food and fellowship and to show God’s love in a practical way across the community.  It takes place twice a month at North Warnborough Village Hall and has made a huge difference to many of those who go along as well as the team who volunteer their help and cooking skills.  

Stacy is a single parent with three children who are 10, 11 and 15 years old.   She says “We haven’t got a lot of money and all our bills have gone up with the cost of living, so places like this really help.   It means I have an extra meal to feed the children.  We’ve also met a lot of new people we wouldn’t normally meet.  My children love interacting with the older generation and the older people love seeing the children and to have adult conversations is nice for me too.   God tells his church to help the community, but this does much more than that, it gives you something to look forward to.”

The Table has grown in popularity from 4 guests attending the first event to up to 45 people now coming along for the meal and chance to meet others.  It not only helps with the cost of living pressures but gives vital company and support to those feeling lonely and isolated.

It’s not just providing food for people, we’re now forming a community and so it’s got quite a different feel to it.  We’ve also intentionally blurred the lines between those on the team and attendees.  So, we’ve got some people, who would be recipients, who are cooking or washing up and people who are part of the team, are really benefiting from mixing with other people and being in community.   It’s a real mix across all the different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds.  We’re also aware that people are desperately longing to connect with people.  We have our children’s and youth groups and our groups for the older generation, but this brings all those different groups together.  We’ve got a particular heart for people who are vulnerable, people who are financially struggling, who need free meals, people who are lonely, but people can come for whatever reason.  It’s been exciting to see how people look out for each other and often meet up for coffee outside of this situation.

Revd Matt Bianchi

James has been going to The Table since December.  “It’s a community and all local people. I’ve made a lot of friends so it’s good to come back and check on them.  It’s nice and sociable and great to see them enjoying themselves.  A lot of the local shops have shut, which is often where people would meet, so this is a great place and people get a decent meal too!” 

Brian attends with his 9-year-old son James who has autism. “I work a lot of hours including Sunday mornings and my wife works into Sunday evening.  Bills are going up, everything is really tight and having an SEN child costs more too.  It’s lovely to get a nice meal and they give me a box of food to take away for my wife, so she has a hot meal when she gets home and doesn’t have to worry about cooking.   James likes to come and play with the other children and that’s great.  It helps in so many ways.”

A team of 12 volunteers is made up of cooks, servers, people to set up and to clear away.  The Table was initially started with a charitable giving donation by a Basingstoke based security firm who ran the project for the first three months.   It’s now funded through money set aside by All Saints Church in Odiham and a grant from Odiham Consolidated Charities.

The volunteers come from different churches within the benefice and some from outside of the church.    Anna Rigby and Katharine Richardson both got involved in The Table after taking part in an Alpha course.

Anna said: “We both go to church regularly now and we go to different churches within our benefice, so I feel like I’ve met lots of new people, which is lovely.  I see this as another part of the church family really, working together, trying to support people that are having a tough time in their lives, whether they are single mums and struggling to make ends meet or they’re very lonely.  We’ve got a real mix at The Table and they gel together, even though they’re very different and I think people really look forward to it.  You might think this is quite an affluent area but there is a need.  It’s an eye opener to me about the spread of people that it helps.  It’s putting your faith into action and it feels like the Spirit is here with us”.

Katharine added: “It’s lovely to be involved in something in the community. I came back to the church after a very long period of time when things had gone horribly wrong in my life.  Being part of this group has helped to put my life back together.  I’m with friends and meeting people and we see it make a difference.  There are the people who come along who are hungry, and that’s terribly sad, and there are people who are clearly lonely. There are a couple of people with additional needs children who come and are welcomed and that’s really good because, as a parent of children with special needs, you can be so isolated. The church isn’t just about Sunday and being a nice clique.  Church is about being out there and trying to make a little bit of difference when the world can be so tough”.

A prayer is said before the meal and sometimes there’s a short talk about faith.  A number of people who come to The Table recently joined an Alpha course and some have attended  Bible study groups.   It’s one of a number of community projects for More to Life Church including youth and children’s work, weekly assembles in primary schools and lunchtime clubs in secondary schools, work with Ukrainian families, a food bank and coffee morning with social prescribers.

Rev Matt said “For me, it’s essential the church is at the heart of this and in the community, because I think the one unique thing that we have as a church, as opposed to any other social organisation, is the grace of Jesus and how that is a blessing that nobody else can give.  It helps the community to see that the church cares and helps the church by serving and meeting people they wouldn’t normally encounter.  It’s been quite an important barrier-breaking initiative.  We’ve seen people, who normally would be a bit more closed off, being open and honest, and we’re having deep conversations with people about their situations in life.  Really sad situations are being shared and I’ve had the opportunity to pray with one or two people who’ve asked for it.   So, it’s been quite exciting.   It’s how we not only get people to connect with church, but how we get church into places it’s not currently in.  It’s vital, and it’s the call of Jesus to ‘as you go make disciples, so go everywhere and impact the community wherever you go’.”