When you walk into the basement of First Presbyterian Church of Homewood for a free community dinner, you’re greeted with warmth and compassion.
The church has served free weekly community dinners for two years. Increasingly, local businesses and organizations like the Homewood Area Chamber of Commerce have found these dinners are a valuable addition to the community, and have responded with financial support.
Last month, the chamber raised $1,000 for the dinners at its annual golf outing. Pastor Nancy Jo Dederer said the donation will cover two months of the dinners. Thanks to the added visibility, the church is has received donations from Chevrolet of Homewood, which sponsored the July 4 dinner, and Helsel-Jepperson Electrical Inc. Other businesses, such as Aurelio’s Pizza, are planning to sponsor future dinners.
Dinners are held at 5:30 p.m. Mondays at the church, 17929 Gottschalk Ave. in Homewood. All are welcome.
The dinners started as a way to get better acquainted with Homewood’s changing community, but members quickly found out they provided guests with so much more. Initially, the small church used its own funds to put on the dinners.
The weekly community dinners began in the church parking lot in June 2014. It was originally started as a 12-week project that was part of a process called “New Beginnings,” which was designed to show how First Presbyterian could thrive as a congregation.
“What we discovered is that we don’t know our neighbors,” church member Laurel Hamilton recalled. “If we don’t know them, how can we serve and meet their needs?”
At first, the church planned to only hold the dinners during the summer. But as time went on – and members “re-learned” their community – they were continued after summer ended.
“We found out that people are hungry in Homewood,” Dederer said. “Either they’re hungry physically or they’re hungry for conversation. Maybe they live alone, or just need socialization.”
After organizers appealed to the church council for funding, the dinners were moved indoors, and became a permanent weekly feature. That raised the question of how the dinners would be financed, and if they could be supported solely by church offerings.
Dederer said donations from outside the church started coming in at about the time that the chamber approached her about a donation from the golf outing. A number of donations have come in from area clergy or Homewood residents who support the mission of the dinners.
“It’s been a positive experience, and as a low-income senior, it’s helped me too,” said member Darlene Giesbacht. She said the dinners have also brought in many volunteers from the area, such as students from Homewood-Flossmoor High School and other areas schools. Even the guests pitch in to help set up and take down the dinner area, she said.
“At our dinners, there are people who wouldn’t have had the dinner, companionship, support and fellowship they find here,” Hamilton said. “To me, this is the church finally being what the church is supposed to be.”
Correction: The church address and length of time the dinner program has been in existence have been corrected.