Food isn’t the only item on community dinner menus

 

Dignity and love are served as well

By Jeniffer Rodríguez | Presbyterians Today

Courtesy of First Presbyterian Church of Ossining

Seeing people happy around the table makes me think that something good is happening among them. But seeing people laughing, smiling, talking to each other — and even dancing — around food makes me realize how important the time of fellowship is at the church dinners we share.

Every year, First Presbyterian Church of Ossining, New York, hosts a Thanksgiving dinner party where more than 180 meals are served. The meals are either eaten at the church or delivered to homes. Yes, even if people cannot be physically present at church, people can have a Thanksgiving meal to share with their families at home.

The Thanksgiving dinner party is a big production. The Rev. Dr. Tim Ives from Scarborough Presbyterian Church in Briarcliff Manor, New York; Melvin Corbett from Briarcliff Congregational Church, also in Briarcliff Manor; and two of us from First Presbyterian of Ossining — Duna Fullerton and I — get together for the planning. It is amazing how many volunteers from the community come together for the cooking, serving, setting up, driving meals to different homes, cleaning and even playing instruments or singing songs so all of us can have a wonderful time and be reminded to be thankful.

Everybody is invited to this meal. Nobody is left out. I always have the opportunity to sit and talk with people, and each of them shares their gratitude for having a meal with others. Most of the time they have to eat by themselves. On this day they are thankful because they are welcomed just the way they are, without judgment. They are thankful because people see them despite their situation or status.

For Fullerton, a longtime member of First Presbyterian of Ossining and the main coordinator of the Thanksgiving dinner party, this meal makes Thanksgiving her favorite day of the year.

“People from different walks of life — rich and poor, old and young, families and singles — gather to be thankful and have a delicious meal,” she said. “I love the dignity of the full-service meal — china dishes, colorful decor, homemade gravy, mashed potatoes and pies. More important than the food is the friendship, with folks enjoying each other with a live folk band and then a jazz band accompanying their conversations. This is not an eat-and-run affair. It’s a time to relax with newfound friends and enjoy the moment.”

Food is a way of bringing a whole community together. By leaving our differences aside to break bread together, we follow what we have been called to do as God’s creatures: to thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things (Psalm 107:8–9).

It breaks my heart every time I think about people who suffer from hunger, but also it breaks my heart to think of people who cannot share a meal with anybody because they are lonely, forgotten and invisible in the society we live in.

Giving a plate of food with dignity to people with different needs is the minimum we can do to bring a smile to people who are often in distress or isolation. All of this because of food.

There is a lot of need for food — that’s really evident — but there is also a huge desire for sharing love and having a good conversation. By listening to each of the guests who are part of the Thanksgiving dinner party, we validate each of them and give each a voice.

 In so many ways, we traditionally have silenced the voices of the ones we “serve” by merely providing food for their bodies. We have forgotten that spiritual food is also important. Listening, talking, caring and allowing them to understand that the people we serve are important are also part of the process of nourishment.

We are so happy to provide our community food, love, music and opportunities to be one at this Thanksgiving party. We also look for different ways to feed our community by engaging with members and friends. Many people’s hearts are in this ministry not because it is an evident need, but because it is important to engage with the people we serve. It is an opportunity to serve food with dignity in a world that has forgotten how to do so.

Jeniffer Rodríguez, originally from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ossining, New York.

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