FAIRMONT - In January 2010, a brainstorming session focusing on ideas to build a supportive community resulted in a weekly meal at First Congregational United Church of Christ.
The homemade repast is open to the community each Wednesday evening, serving from 5:30-6:30 p.m., or until the food is gone.
There is no charge, but donations are accepted, with the exception of the last Wednesday of the month.
"We don't even accept offerings on that night; it's completely free," said Cheryl Ashland, director of Christian education at the church.
"[The meals] are not need-based. They are open to everyone," Ashland stressed.
Attendance ranges from 60, who showed up in the middle of an ice storm, to a peak of 200, with an average of about 125.
It's not just church members who are involved. Several organization, including 4-H clubs and service groups, have participated.
"Some groups provide food and funds for the meal," Ashland said. "Other times, the church provides the food, and other groups do the preparation and clean up."
Groups interested in assisting may contact Rowena Nepomuceno at (507) 235-5382. Individuals also may offer assistance.
"Helping hands are always welcome," Ashland noted.
Each week's meal averages about $300 in food costs, with donations offsetting expenses.
This week's menu includes egg bake, muffins and frozen fruit cups, with tastes of Puffin Pastry.
"We will be serving Puffins Wednesday so people can sample them," said Ashland, explaining that orders for the pastries will be taken at the meal as part of a fundraising effort.
Puffins do not require thawing, nor do they need to rise, like some frozen pastries. A box of 12 costs $12, and a variety of flavors are available.
Orders also will be taken at other times and locations: 8:30-10:30 a.m. Saturday and again on May 8 in the entry at Hy-Vee in Fairmont; 5-7 p.m. May 13, when First Congregational UCC hosts Community Food and Fellowship (formerly Holy Hotdish); 5:30-6:30 p.m. May 14, at the community meal at the church.
All orders can be picked up at next month's free meal from 5:30-6:30 p.m. May 28.