Editor's note: Second of two articles focusing on hunger in Martin County.
FAIRMONT - Regardless of theological differences that have developed since the founding of Christianity, churches throughout the ages have continued to follow the Bible's commands to clothe the poor and feed the hungry.
Open Door meals at Grace Lutheran Church in Fairmont began about 30 years ago, when its founder, Kay Shellpeper, noticed a need within the congregation. The initial purpose of the Wednesday evening meals was to minimize the chaos for families attending "church night" activities, and also to provide a way for some of the 2,000-plus members to get to know each other.
Since then, the Open Door has truly been opened, with anyone from the community invited to break bread. On average, about 200 people have turned up for the meals, but this year the church is planning on feeding a few extras.
"Last year, of those served, 10 percent were non-members," said Shellpeper. "We hope that number will grow. That's our goal."
Grace Lutheran Pastor Steve Berkeland praised the event for its widespread benefits shared by all who partake, from the servers to the diners.
"The community benefits by having a tasty, nutritious meal offered in a safe, pleasant atmosphere ... available for anyone, no matter what their economic status might be," he said.
The cost of the meal is a suggested donation of $3 per person, but only for those who can afford it.
To encourage more people from the community to take advantage of Open Door, Grace Lutheran has given away 200 tickets for free meals to the Salvation Army and 200 to Heaven's Table Food Shelf.
The meals are served from 5 to 6:15 p.m. Wednesdays from September through May. The first meal of this season will be this Wednesday.
Other congregations that regularly offer Wednesday night meals for the community include First Congregational United Church of Christ, on the last Wednesday of the month; and United Methodist, which asks for a $2 donation for those who can afford it.