“It’s good fellowship, good food and good times,” Vivian Guest, a regular donor to the New Life Community Meal Ministry, said.
The Meal Ministry started Jan. 15, 2007 and serves meals every night to any community member that wants one, no questions asked. Scott Thorn, head of the Meal Ministry, said that during the ministry’s first year they served a little over 1,400 meals, last year they served over 18,200 meals and this year they have already served over 20,000 meals.
“Some people say we don’t have any homeless in Huntington, but we do,” Thorn said. “Some of the people that come in are homeless, but for the majority of people that come in, this just helps them supplement their household income. It’s a meal they don’t have to worry about.”
Thorn estimated that about 60-70 percent of people that come for meals come in four to six times a week. He said that 5 percent of the people that come in are homeless. On average, the ministry serves 70 meals per night, but in the winter months Thorn said they anticipate an average of 55-60 meals.
In addition to providing meals, another goal of the ministry is to build community.
“There’s some people in dire straights in times of the lay-off or whatever, but there’s quite a few people that come in here that don’t really need to be here, but they do like the fellowship and company,” Guest said. “It stays off the loneliness, especially for elderly.”
For Vivian Barton, avoiding loneliness is a main part of why she comes to eat at the ministry.
“I’ve lost my husband, and this helps me cope and make it so I’m not by myself,” Barton said. “Having people to communicate with is really important.”
Not only does the ministry bring people together to eat a meal together, it also brings churches together to serve. Thorn said about eight or nine churches help with the ministry by regularly coming in to run a night with teams from their churches.
“That’s one of the nice things about this, it’s a community thing,” Thorn said. “Its not just our church doing it, it’s the community.”
The ministry operates solely through volunteers — there is no paid staff. It also is primarily funded through monetary and food donations. Monetary donations all go towards rent, utilities and supplies for the mission. A list of needed food items can be found at www.newlifefellowshipchurch.org/meal-ministry, but any donation is welcome.
“It’s pulled the community together quite a bit because churches will volunteer their time and Huntington University will volunteer their time,” Guest said. “Sometimes the restaurants will donate pizzas or whatever.”
The Meal Ministry is holding a fundraiser auction and banquet Nov. 22. Thorn said the event is one of the ministry’s main avenues of donations and will include a meal, door prizes, raffles, entertainment and a benefit auction. The event will take place at St. Peter’s First Community Church. The doors will open at 6 p.m., and the event will start at 6:30 p.m.
Thorn said that the ministry is always in need of more volunteers. Volunteers help make meals and also serve coffee, drinks and meals directly to people restaurant style. They also make a point to sit down and talk with the people that come in.
Travis Benson has been volunteering at the Meal Ministry once a week on average for approximately four months. He said his faith is his main motivation for helping.
“I’m helping the Lord,” Benson said. “I go to church on Sundays and the Lord tells me where I’m needed.”
Thorn said the ministry aligns with his own passions.
“I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant for one thing so that comes right down with doing this work,” Thorn said. “I like to take care of people, so it just kind of falls into place with what I’ve been driven to do.”
Thorn said this ministry is a way New Life Fellowship Church is living out it’s vision “to be external, not internal.”
“It’s kind of hard to pray real hard if you’re hungry,” Guest said.
The Meal Ministry is located across from the courthouse at 32 East Franklin Street in Historic Downtown Huntington. Meals are served from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information on how to volunteer, donate or attend the banquet, contact Scott Thorn at (260) 358-7801 or by email at email@example.com.