I used to live right by St. Peter’s Church and I’ve seen the Harvest Table sign set out on 5th Street numerous times. But it wasn’t until Nancy Nagel reached out and I had the chance to experience the Harvest Table, that I fully understood what an asset it is for the community. It’s refreshing and wonderful to know that there are people who are willing to do something for free, out of the kindness of their very own hearts. Read more about the Harvest Table – how it began, what it is and how you can be part of it – in the interview with Nancy below!
How did the idea of the Harvest Table came to be?
In the fall and winter of 2009-2010 a group of five Washington area women took part in a program called Just Faith, which uses Christian scripture, other reading sources and prayer to help the participants to see where God is leading them to act in the world. I was one of those women, who also included Brigid Reid, Portia Clark, Marilyn Traffas, and Mary Armistead. Through many hours of discernment – listening for God through prayer and each other – we felt strongly that there were many people in our community who needed help with getting enough to eat and that we should help them.
Was it difficult to start?
Once we discerned the mission to feed hungry people, we were stymied by how we were actually going to do this. One of our members, Marilyn Traffas, very wisely, said “this is not rocket science. We’ve all spent years feeding our families. Let’s just cook!” That really focused our efforts on preparing a meal. But we knew just the 5 of us could not feed an entire community. We knew we needed to ask for help. We turned to the various churches located in the downtown Washington area. The first to respond positively was St. Peter’s UCC. Pastor Leah Bilinski and Karen Dawson met with our core group of five and from there on we began planning. We spent considerable time “sweating the details” and worrying about the exact procedures and routines to follow to get the meal on the table on time. After several months we refined and improved our procedures, based on what we had learned.
Who is behind the Harvest Table?
The entire Washington community is now behind the Harvest Table, but the actual operation of the meal is the responsibility of the 12 board members/managers. They are: Nancy Nagel – resident, Karen Dawson –Vice President, Portia Clark – Secretary, Marilyn Traffas – Treasurer, and board members: Debbie Hinrichs, Theresa Holz, Kirk Kriete, Robin Morgan, Brenda Mormon, Mary Price, and Jane Rembusch.
We are a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt nonprofit corporation. Our members have backgrounds in education, government, business, and labor. The board members take turns serving as managers at each meal. The managers follow a set routine for setting up the dining room at St. Peter’s, then supervise the volunteer workers in their specific jobs to prepare, serve and clean up after the meal.
St. Peter’s UCC donates the use of the dining room, kitchen with equipment, and a storage room for use by the Harvest Table. Several members of St. Peter’s serve on the Harvest Table Board as well.
Can anyone benefit from the free community meal?
Yes, we welcome anyone who comes in the door on a Saturday night. Some of our guests have financial need, some just want to eat a home-cooked meal, and some just want to not have to eat alone. We have regular volunteers who find meaning in their lives by serving at the Harvest Table.
Where do you get your food and supplies?
Volunteers cook the casseroles and desserts in their own homes. They donate the cost of the ingredients. They purchase and donate the salad ingredients. Sometimes people or groups in the community donate cooked food or ingredients for us to serve. We store this food in our freezers and plan menus around it. The Harvest Table purchases milk, tea, coffee, condiments, and salad dressing for each meal. We also purchase foil pans, and various other paper supplies needed for each meal from a commercial food service company.
Are you looking for more volunteers and sponsors?
We welcome new sponsors and volunteers at any time. We ask that all volunteers schedule through Nancy Nagel at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are trying to develop a way for young families to volunteer together at a meal. We have safety concerns that preclude children under age 10 from serving at a meal, but we know those children also have a heart for serving and want to encourage that. Watch our Facebook page for news in this area.
How has the Harvest Table grown and expanded throughout the years?
When we first started serving in the fall of 2010, most of the board members had to be at each meal and frequently cooked some of the food… Gradually, as word spread and more people got on board, volunteers from each church took on more responsibility for food and workers. More and more churches and community organizations are sponsoring meals, so each group has fewer meal dates to sponsor. Now, some groups go in together on a meal night, like Peace Lutheran Church and Mercy co-workers.
As our reputation of being good stewards of our resources has spread, individuals, clubs and businesses have donated cooked food for us to use in a meal or distribute to our guests. We freeze these donations and adjust our meal menus to make good use of them.
We also appreciate the donations of fresh produce from vendors at the Washington Farmer’s Market during the growing season.
Our hope is that more people feel comfortable joining us as guests at The Harvest Table. We currently average about 50 guests at each meal. We know there are many more people in the community who could benefit from the nourishing meal and companionship. We do not ask for any qualifying information. All you have to do is show up and sit down to eat.
When and where is the Harvest Table?
The Harvest Table is served every Saturday from 5 till 6 p.m. in the dining room of St. Peter’s UCC church, on the corner of 5th and Market in downtown Washington. Enter through the double doors from the parking lot behind the church on 6th street.
Feel free to add anything else you want people to know about you!
Many of us are aware of the saying about “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day…teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” At The Harvest Table we believe that man could not have learned to fish if he did not have anything to eat. Yes, we “give” out free food. Many guests have not eaten all day or for several days before the meal night. It is very difficult to make decisions or to think in the long-term when you or your children are hungry. At The Harvest Table we provide the most basic of human needs – nourishing food – that empowers those who receive it to then go out and make better decisions for themselves and their families.
When this ministry first began in the fall of 2010, we were very focused on the mechanics of getting the meal on the table. As our guests grew and we got to know them and our volunteers, we soon realized The Harvest Table was much more than a meal. Over and over guests and volunteers have told us how much the meal means to them. Some say they look forward to the socialization all week. Some of our volunteers say the service gives them meaning in their lives and has provided a way for them to get to know other people in the community. Many people say they feel serving at the meal is their way of following their Christian beliefs. Some have also said this ministry was long-overdue in the Washington area and they are so glad it has finally come into being. In all kinds of ways, the Harvest Table fills and enriches people’s lives.
Like The Harvest Table on Facebook. For more information, contact email@example.com.