Coming in from the cold to a home-cooked meal |
On the third Sunday of every month, something besides huge pots of pasta sauce, chili or soup is bubbling in the big basement kitchen of First United Methodist Church of Boulder.
Laughter, camaraderie, and appreciation are at a steady simmer, too.
The Heartfelt Cafe happens one Sunday a month at the historic church on Spruce between 14th and 15th. For more than a quarter century, FUMC has been one of five downtown Boulder churches that take turns hosting free, hot Sunday lunches, making sure each and every Sunday is covered year round.
Everyone is welcome at the Heartfelt Cafe meal, and anyone is also welcome to help cook and serve. Church members and friends and friends of friends – regulars and newcomers – make up the multigenerational volunteer team who gather on any given third Sunday.
Preparation starts earlier in the week when volunteers shop at Community Food Share. “Shopping” for our non-profit agency means filling three carts with cases of dry goods, granola bars, fresh eggs and frozen meat, sacks of fresh carrots and potatoes, and many gallons of milk donated by Horizon Dairy. We supplement what we find at CFS with a trip to a local grocery store because Heartfelt’s coordinator Wendy Driscoll is committed to offering a fresh, colorful salad every time.
The fun starts in earnest on Sunday morning at 9 a.m. We fire up the industrial ovens and start scrubbing potatoes, chopping carrots, setting tables, and wrapping silverware. Someone makes coffee and someone else fills pitchers with water and lemonade. Huge kettles of eggs (12 dozen!) boil on the stove.
There are jobs for people of all ages. The whole Higgins family is there – parents Sarah and Mark, and children Anna (age 11) and Ethan (age 14). They’ve been involved on and off for five years but have been making a more serious effort recently. “Pitching in to help others pulls our family closer together,” says Sarah. “We love how Heartfelt Cafe helps local people in a direct way.”
By 10:30 things are going fast and furious. Wendy’s brother-in-law Keith, who has restaurant experience, is in awesome action at the stove. He’s too busy to talk but Rick Powers, a long-time volunteer, sums it up. “My wife Julie and I enjoy doing things to help people less fortunate than ourselves,” says Rick, “and we also enjoy doing it together with such a great and friendly group who are similarly dedicated.”
At the Heartfelt Cafe there isn’t a wall between the people who put on the meal and those who receive it. A few of the guests, like Aaron, volunteer regularly in the kitchen, and others help wipe down tables and chairs and vacuum after the meal.
For an hour or more, people have been coming in out of the winter weather, putting down backpacks, shedding layers, and warming up with a cup of coffee. One of the guests plays the piano in the back of the hall.
There’s a final rush to get everything in place on the serving counter: hot entrees and sides, a tray of tossed green salad, cottage cheese and yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, fruit. Our servers are ready in aprons and plastic gloves. We pull up the wooden shutters. That’s when, as we greet our 100-120 lunch guests and dish up the much-appreciated food, we realize anew that we’re getting fed, too.
“I began helping with the Sunday meal at FUMC in the summer of 1997, just after moving to Colorado from North Carolina,” remembers Wendy, “and after all of these years, the fortitude and gratitude of our guests, and the kindness and joy of the volunteers never ceases to amaze me and fill my heart with hope.”