CUMBERLAND — Carol Suiter lifted the metal cover off a massive pot of baked beans to allow Delores Davis a chance to stir the food.
The women were making sure the baked beans and the rest of the food were ready to be served. Beans, pulled pork, salad, rolls, sweet tea, lemonade, cake and other fixings equaled a meal most anyone would love to eat, particularly a hungry person in need.
As the smell of the freshly cooked food wafted toward the women, they smiled, knowing their gift was good, ready to be enjoyed by dozens of hungry individuals.
For Davis, 77, Greenfield, this was a special meal, one she and other church members from St. John United Church of Christ prepared and served free of charge to the community.
The dinner is something church members have done every month for the past 10 years.
They celebrated the milestone anniversary at the end of May, adding an anniversary cake and balloons to their usual food offerings.
Davis, a retired nurse, originally came up with the idea many years ago to help feed those in need and the homeless living in the area when St. John was located in Cumberland at 11000 E. Washington St. Church members moved out of the historic building, which was in desperate need of repairs, in October 2015.
At the church’s current location at 11910 E. Prospect St., where members plan to build a permanent building, they’ve continued to attract the same number of people, several dozen or more.
Since May 2007, Davis estimates she and other church members have prepared and served more than 7,500 meals.
“I had retired back then and loved to cook, so I thought it would be good to do something like this,” she said. “We’re just so thankful to God we have the ability to do this each month.”
Church leaders have a special budget, a couple hundred dollars a month, to help buy the food for the monthly meal.
Davis said she looks forward to making and serving the meal each month with fellow church members who volunteer their time. She particularly likes filling a void for many lonely people who come to eat and find friends.
The monthly dinner is now open to anyone, including church members, who want to come for a good meal and fellowship. It starts at 5 p.m. the third Thursday of each month and is open to all.
The community meal also gives church members a chance to gather for fellowship while at the same time doing something positive for people in the area, church leaders said.
Ten to 12 church members work the event. They gather before each of the meals, offering a prayer that the food they made will be a blessing to all who come through the church doors.
“It gives us the ability to serve other people, and that’s what we want to do,” church board member Rich Suiter said.
Mary Caldwell of Cumberland made the visit for the free meal for the first time in May. She came with Ruth Jensen, also of Cumberland, who has enjoyed many meals at the church.
“It makes you feel kind of good inside knowing somebody does care about you,” Jensen said.
Both women are thankful for a church where members think about the daily needs of people in the community.
“I think this is just great,” Caldwell said.
She attended St. John in Cumberland as a child, noting her grandfather was one of the many men who helped establish the church more than 100 years ago.
He would be pleased, she said, knowing church members are holding firm to the foundation of the church, caring for and serving others.