The Bible talks about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in heaven.
That has yet to take place.
But Chris Leaver remembers when a weekday dinner at First Lutheran Church became a wedding reception.
It happened years ago at The Banquet, a free weekly meal open to the public. The meal, which takes place on Thursday evenings, is designed for folks who could use a little help stretching their food budget, along with others who’d just like some extra socialization.
This year is the 10th anniversary for The Banquet, which since its inception in June 2012 has served more than 71,000 meals.
Leaver, program coordinator, said the event began with a group of people brainstorming about what to do with a mission fund at the Fremont church. Three group members had an idea of providing a community feeding program. They visited other large churches involved in this type of ministry.
“We kind of copied some of that,” Leaver said.
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When the program began, approximately 125 people came to the church each week to share a meal in the church at 3200 E. Military Ave.
That number grew to about 250 meals each week when the church implemented a drive-thru service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, the church resumed its in-person dining with a meal of ham, au gratin potatoes, corn, fruit, a roll and butter and dessert.
Weekly in-person meals will continue.
Serving begins at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 6:30 p.m. A volunteer delivers about 10 to 15 meals to church members who are homebound.
People can make a monetary donation if they’d like, but nothing is expected.
Meals are made at the church. Desserts are donated. A variety of meals have been served, said volunteer Teresa Fauss.
Some meals have included: meatloaf, roast beef or pork, grilled hamburgers, Tastee Treat (loose meat) sandwiches and several types of casseroles. Favorites include a chicken and Stovetop stuffing casserole called, “Connie’s Casserole,” and a macaroni casserole that’s kind of like lasagna.
Besides the main dish, meals include a potato, another vegetable and fruit. With the in-person dining, they’ll also include a dessert and milk or coffee.
Fauss said The Banquet has received donations of pork from Wholestone Farms and chicken from Costco Lincoln Premium Poultry in Fremont.
“That really helps out on the cost of putting the meal out,” she said.
Leaver said funds for the meals come from memorial gifts, grants and donations. Some guests donate, too.
Fauss said last week that volunteers weren’t certain how returning to in-person dining would affect numbers of attendees, adding that there won’t be carry-out meals.
Leaver believes inflation will have an effect on attendance.
“The need’s greater now than before COVID,” he said, adding, “We’ve sure noticed the cost of our groceries going up for this church program. I’m sure the folks we’re trying to reach are seeing the same impact.”
People of all ages come to the meal. Fauss has seen kids from a year old to folks who are well into their 80s.
She recalls a woman who asked for a little extra helping, because that was the only meal she’d had that day.
Another time, a man got up and began cleaning off tables.
When volunteers told him he didn’t need to do that, he said, “No, this is the only thing I can do for you for all you do for me.”
Another man, who lives quite a distance, has ridden his bicycle to get meals for himself and this mother. He regularly attended in-person meals before the pandemic.
Leaver said The Banquet can provide one hot, nutritional, homemade meal to help take a little pressure off a family’s budget. It also provides social interaction for other attendees.
“We have church members who come,” Fauss said. “They’ll sit and visit and have their supper. If someone’s lost their spouse, they sit home by themselves eating. This way, they have someplace to go.”
Work to prepare the food begins earlier in the day. Fauss said Leaver prepares the menu.
And if roast is to be served, Leaver comes early in the morning to put the meat in a roaster to cook.
“It cooks all day,” Fauss said.
Fauss and her husband, Randy, Bonnie Warner and Julie Fechner arrive between 1:30 and 2 p.m., and they prepare the rest of the meal.
Last week, the crew prepared beans and wieners, oven-roasted potatoes and pears.
They cooked 80 pounds of potatoes, 32 pounds of hot dogs and 12 cans of baked beans.
“Usually we go through eight or nine big gallon cans of vegetables and fruit,” she said.
When the church had drive-thru meals, only about five or six volunteers dished up meals and four cooked. Two other volunteers handed out the meals in front of the church.
More volunteers are needed now that The Banquet has resumed in-person dining.
“We have people that will pour drinks, carry out drinks for the ones (diners) who aren’t very mobile,” Fauss said.
Other volunteers are needed to donate desserts, wash dishes, and set up tables, complete with placemats and table settings.
Fauss added that those who come to the meal eat with real silverware, cups and glasses—instead of disposable ones—so the settings are nice for guests.
Leaver and Fauss look toward the future.
“It’s been going really well for the 10 years,” Fauss said.
Leaver also has a great Banquet memory of one couple, who were regular attenders. One Thursday, they got married at the county courthouse and then came to The Banquet that night to celebrate their wedding.
“We had a violin player, a piano player and we got some non-alcoholic champagne for all the guests,” Leaver said. “That was kind of cool.”