Setting a place: Mercy Table organizers hope people find connection, community over food

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FORTVILLE — Jenn Beaumont remembers a time years ago when someone saw that she was hungry and invited her to their church.

That invitation also included a meal. In that season of life, feeding physical hunger was crucial. There would eventually be a spiritual hunger in her, and she would one day seek nourishment for it too, but back then the meal was a big deal.

“I came to Jesus Christ over food,” Beaumont said. “I was lost, not a believer.”

Her life is different now. She doesn’t worry about her next meal, she’s married, and she’s active in her church. Now she, husband Mike and others at Mercy Road Northeast in Fortville want to make room at the table for others.

“Once I got to the other side (of the table) where I could give back, I tried to do this,” she said.

They envision Mercy Table, a monthly meal where anyone is welcome, one based on finding connection and community. It’s not about addressing food security; it’s about giving people opportunities to make connections.

“We wanted a sit-down community meal … (to) remind people how to make friends — real friends,” Beaumont said.

Beth Leininger hopes those who come “see people who are at this location who genuinely care about them.

“This is because we genuinely care about our community,” Leininger said. “The church is about more than just a building on Sundays.”

Mercy Table launched in December. A Christmas dinner-themed meal, complete with green beans and mashed potatoes, was boxed up and handed to those who drove by the church at 611 Vitality Drive. Organizers didn’t see the turnout they’d hoped for, only a couple of cars, but they found a way to give away every meal they’d made.

At the most recent Mercy Table event on March 27, the white foam boxes held pulled pork sandwiches, green beans and a fruit cup.

A church member with a side catering business made the pulled pork. A crew of volunteers, guided by team members with Servsafe certification, packaged the meals in the church kitchen.

Other volunteers stood outside directing the line of cars. Still others were available to say a prayer for those with prayer requests. About 30 volunteers staff each Mercy Table event.

They estimate more than 70 meals were given to those who drove past the church’s front door.

Drive-thru is not the format organizers envisioned, but it’s what they’ve done thus far amid coronavirus concerns. Later this month, however, they plan an outdoor event where they can move closer to the connection they hope to foster.

Mercy Table seeks “a long-term development of engagement rather than crisis relief,” said Katie Weaver, one of the leaders. “We’re wanting to re-engage them in the community.”

The April 24 meal will feature hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, cole slaw, cookies, chips and dip. Those serving it, from noon to 2 p.m., will be masked and gloved.

Mercy Table and Fortville Area Resource Mission are different groups with different purposes, but they do work together on occasion and promote each other’s events.

Mercy Table also gave out breakfasts March 6 when Fortville Area Resource Mission was having a large food box giveaway at Fortville Christian Church. Visitors to such events or FARM’s weekly drive-thru pantry receive notice about Mercy Table meals, but people don’t have to be in need to eat at Mercy Table. Mercy Table volunteers eat at the events, too.

“Even though it looks like (it’s addressing) food insecurity,” Beaumont said, “It’s for community engagement.”

She wants people to find community at Mercy Table. And when community “is centered around identity in Christ, they have a purpose,” she said.

“And I don’t think you’re poor anymore once you have those two things.”

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When: noon to 2 p.m. April 24

Where: 611 Vitality Drive, Fortville

Featuring: hamburgers, hotdogs, games, a balloon artist and a Kona Ice truck

Who: Anyone. Bring a blanket or a chair for seating if you like. If it rains, the picnic will move inside.

Information: [email protected], themercytable.net

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Anyone can volunteer at the monthly Mercy Table meal, typically on the fourth Saturday at Mercy Road Church Northeast in Fortville. Families with children 8 and older can volunteer together; organizers try to offer childcare for volunteers’ younger children. Volunteers eat too in this ministry of community building.

Mercy Table also has an Amazon wish list for items such as foam containers or paper towels.

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