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Church’s bounty feeds those in need at community meal

12/19/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Ready to serve at the Nov. 23 Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron community meal were, shown from left, Woody Woodward, of Rittman; Steve Finn, of Akron; Lois Davis, of Copley; Dottie Piovano, of Medina; Jean Finn, of Akron; and Marie Alcala-Cardew, of Fairlawn.
Justin and Shirin Snyder, of Kenmore, said the free meal was helpful as they try to make ends meet.
Woody Woodward, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, is shown with one of the organic garden plots on the church’s property on Morewood Road in Fairlawn. Food grown in the plots is used for the church’s free monthly meal.
Dried herbs that were grown in the church’s garden were made available for attendees to take home and use at the November meal. The next meal is Dec. 28 from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m.
Photos: Krista Galloway
FAIRLAWN — When members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron (UUCA) found that their organic garden plots were producing more food than they knew what to do with, they decided to combine several of their ministries into one to help those in need.

What resulted is a free community meal on the fourth Saturday of the month that is open to anyone who just wants to eat a healthy, hot meal.

Pastor the Rev. Tim Temerson said church members first helped at a meal at First Grace United Church of Christ in the Highland Square area before deciding to start hosting their own meal in Fairlawn a few months ago. The question was, did residents in that area have a need for assistance in what many perceive to be the more affluent area of Summit County?

“In terms of Fairlawn, Copley and Bath, this was a question that was hotly debated,” Temerson said. “Is there a need for a meal out here, and will people who need a meal have a way to get here? The assumption is that the hungry are folks who live in the city and don’t have cars. But a person at First Grace said they were drawing people from all over. People were driving some distance to come to the meal. That led us to think that maybe there is a need in the suburbs. There are people who are struggling and running out of money two-thirds into the month.”

He added he believes the UUCA’s meal is the only free community meal offered in the western suburbs of Summit County.

Temerson said church members started growing vegetables organically on church property a couple of years ago. Food was typically given to church members who needed assistance at first.

“We are a suburban church, but there’s hunger and food insecurity in our congregation,” Temerson said.

After expanding the garden, the members found they had quite a bounty, and the idea to provide a meal grew from that.

The cooks use as much as they can from the gardens, which even in November were producing kale and beets. Herbs have been dried and preserved for use year-round. Additional items are purchased to round out the meal.

Because much of the food is organic and local, Temerson said that appeals to many church members who feel it is important to provide those in need with something that is better for them than cheap, processed food.

“There’s a movement in this country for locally grown, healthily grown food, but I don’t think that movement has been connected to efforts to reduce hunger and food insecurity,” Temerson said.

For Shirin and Justin Snyder, of Kenmore, the meal provided Nov. 23 was a way for the young married couple to stretch their tight budget.

“We just have too many bills between student loans and everything else,” said Justin, who works as a welder. “I make $13 an hour, and we can’t keep up.”

Shirin, who is unemployed, added that the couple’s income is too high for them to qualify for food assistance, so they rely on free programs such as the one at UUCA.

The diners at the November meal were small in number, but Temerson said the church stands ready to serve at least 50 people for the free meals. Numbers have been increasing since the first meal was served in August. He added organizers would love to serve 100 people a month.

“We’ve been getting wonderful feedback from folks about the quality of the food and the spirit in which we run our meal,” Temerson said. “We run our dining room like a restaurant. They get seated at a table by a host or hostess, and we have church volunteers who bring them their food.”

“This goes hand-in-hand with our food justice ministry,” said church member and volunteer Alan Lane, a resident of the Wallhaven neighborhood. “We want to feed them with dignity and respect and make them feel more than welcome.”

All that church volunteers ask of those who attend when they check in at the meal is that they provide a ZIP code so the church can see where diners are coming from. So far, those attending have given ZIP codes for Fairlawn/Bath, Copley and the Northampton area of Cuyahoga Falls, as well as West Akron, Highland Square and the Norton/Barberton areas.

The next meal will be offered Dec. 28 from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. at the church, located at 3300 Morewood Road. For more information, call 330-836-2206.

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