WHY ARE WE FEEDING SO MANY PEOPLE AT THE BETHANY BOWL?Perhaps the simplest answer is because they come, and we have the means to feed them. Another response might be that as Christians we are called upon to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to comfort the afflicted. But there are even more answers to this question.
In 1999 the Board of Outreach Ministries proposed the Bethany Bowl to the trustees and were encouraged to carry on. From a meager beginning of 17 people we have grown to an average of 120 today with occasional jumps to 140 plus. The larger numbers usually occur on the last Tuesday of the month or the fifth Tuesday of which there have been four in 2010. The last Tuesday is often before the support checks arrive for a number of the attendees. For those who do not have these resources, the soup kitchens in Montpelier are their last resort.
I check in periodically with the other soup kitchens since some of their volunteers occasionally join us for lunch. There are presently seven soup kitchens in Montpelier. Of those, at least three meals other than Bethany Bowl have seen their attendance grow considerably during this year to just below or over 100 visitors. The present national economic picture accounts in part for some of these larger numbers. A recent article in the Times-Argus noted that Meals on Wheels in the area have jumped from 5000 plus to over 10,000 this year.
We are told by our visitors that the way we offer our luncheon provides the greater reason why we feed so many. We frequently hear….”you are very welcoming”…”you sit with us and talk to us”…”you don’t make us feel poor”…”your meals have more variety to them”… “you don’t tell us to leave at 1:00”...”we can have seconds if we wish”…”we can have leftovers (if available) to take home”… “you don’t run out of food”. We also provide a free table which includes items such as clothing, books, soap, toothpaste, etc as well as bread each week from the Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex.
Who eats at the Bethany Bowl? Anyone who wishes. Members of Bethany Church sometimes come for lunch. During the legislative season, at least two legislators visit to talk with guests about their needs and concerns. A group of special needs students from U-32 and the Montpelier schools come together as an opportunity for social exchange. Since the close of Montpelier’s Senior Center, several senior citizens come occasionally for a “good hot meal” as they put it. Other guests may or may not be employed. Several are homeless; some face mental and physical challenges; most live below the poverty level. Our ministers and staff eat here. About five people ride the bus from Barre where there is no such organized effort among the churches.
Do some of these people need to eat at a soup kitchen? Probably not! But as we say each Sunday, all are welcome here regardless of where they are in life. With everyone eating, it takes the stigma away from it being a Soup Kitchen and makes it more of a Community Meal. Most of the less needy put generous offerings in the donation jar. As a matter of fact, their donations have almost balanced the expenses during the summer months.
We welcome anyone who wishes to visit us on Tuesday to see the full operation, to meet the generous volunteers, and to share a meal with our guests. Perhaps in the long run the only question that we should be considering is … when Jesus fed the multitudes did he exclude anyone?
Thank you for your continued support.
For the Bowl
We welcome and thank Judi Joy for taking on the joy & responsibility of being the cook on the fourth Tuesday of the month. She will need help and prayers.
We also say good bye to Rev. Mark as a consistent 4th Tuesday cook.