JOPLIN, Mo. —
They began lining up outside the door of the building at 807 S. Moffet Ave. at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday.
By 10:50 a.m., there were probably 15 people standing in an orderly line, waiting for the doors to open at the Outreach House run by St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church.
In the line were a collection of neighborhood residents who came on foot and homeless people who made their way there. Their situations were different, but they all shared one thing in common: They were hungry.
Since May 6, the Outreach House has been serving free lunches from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Terri Giarratano is the director of the Outreach House. She said the meals are offered free of charge with no strings attached.
“The only thing we ask is that they give us a name when they check in so we can keep track of how many meals we are serving,” she said.
The free lunches are a natural extension of the Outreach House food pantry program, which has been providing food staples to area residents for a number of years.
Terri said that over the years, she noticed a number of people in the morning walking east, away from the Outreach House.
“They were walking to the Salvation Army for lunch, and I thought, ‘We have to do something,’” she said.
Drawing on a number of volunteers, including some who had extensive cooking experience, it wasn’t long before meals were being served out of the Outreach House’s clean and efficient kitchen.
“Since May 6, we have served 2,600 people,” Terri said.
I think that’s something.
On Wednesday, the menu consisted of pizza, featuring Terri’s homemade sauce, a fresh cucumber salad, coffee, tea or milk, and ice cream for dessert. Terri said 28 pizzas would be served out of the kitchen, thanks to generous donors, at a cost of around $100.
Terri said the pizza crusts and cheese were donated, as was the ice cream. The vegetables for the salad were homegrown and donated, and many of the fresh herbs used in both the pizza sauce and the salad also were donated.
By the way, the Outreach House relies solely on local donations. And those donations can come in the form of cash (always appreciated) or food, Terri said.
When it comes to the donation of time by volunteers, Terri also has that covered.
It takes at least six or seven volunteers to serve the lunch, but usually there are anywhere from 10 to 20 who volunteer on a regular basis and at least 60 who also help out when they can.
“Sometimes we have too many,” Terri said with a laugh. “But that’s a good thing.”
One of the volunteers working Wednesday was Irene Comer, who was helping check in people as they entered the house. Terri said Irene will celebrate her 91st birthday on Saturday.
“She says this (working at the Outreach House) gives her a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Terri said.
In the three months the kitchen has been open, Terri has gotten to know most of the people who show up for a meal. Many she already knew through the food pantry program. Others, including a number of homeless people, also have become regulars at lunch.
“For many of these people, this will be their one hot meal. This will be their main meal,” Terri said.
While there is no charge for the meal, Terri said, some people make a habit of leaving at least a little payment in return for their lunch.
“On Monday a man left us $20, which is unusual,” she said.
Eventually Terri would like to be able to serve lunch every day, and she also has plans for a holiday meal.
“I told my husband to get ready to spend Thanksgiving here,” she said.
For more information about the St. Peter’s Outreach House or to make a donation, people may call 417-206-2588.
DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.