So All May Eat
At 5:30 p.m., the doors swing open. The line of more than a dozen people files in. More people will follow soon. Signs with arrows point you through the two turns to find the Zion Meal Site. The guests line up and wait for the evening’s announcements.
Betsy Vanausdeln welcomes guests, provides a few housekeeping reminders, and introduces the meal of the evening, sponsored by a local church or organization. And then the meal begins. Volunteers talk with guests, scoop food, and chat about how good the food smells and how nice it is to be inside on that rainy evening. The guests pass Betsy on their way to their tables, each saying ‘hello’ or updating her on what’s new in their lives. And just a few give her grief about the Buffalo Bills jersey she’s wearing. Betsy is the Associate Director of Churches United of the Quad Cities Area, an organization of more than 140 churches representing about 20 Christian faith traditions in the QC area. She is the main coordinator of the meal site at Zion.
Every few months, a dedicated group of St. Paul volunteers, some veteran cooks and servers, others newcomers, come together to make So All May Eat happen. So All May Eat is the St. Paul program that supports food insecurity in the Quad Cities by providing meals and volunteers to the Zion meal site every few months.
St. Paul member Kathy Schutman and her husband Larry have been serving at the meal site for many years. They are passionate about serving the Quad City community. Kathy, a retired social worker of more than 20 years, is no stranger to volunteering for programs that support food insecurity in the community.
“When I joined St. Paul several years ago, I knew I wanted to put my efforts somewhere within the food ministries. We got involved in serving meals ages ago when the meal site was still at the former Salvation Army location,” Kathy said. “When the meal site moved to Zion Lutheran Church, we made the move with it.”
More recently, Kathy and Larry became the regular grocery shopping duo responsible for finding and purchasing the items each time St. Paul serves. Every few months, Pastor Katy Warren selects a meal from a rotation of menu ideas. One main entrée, often a casserole or other hearty and filling meal, with sides of fruits, vegetables, dessert, and drinks. A few days prior to the meal serving, Kathy and Larry head out to the store, grocery list in hand. Their car, loaded with groceries, then makes its way to St. Paul to deliver the food that will soon be chopped, diced, cooked, served, and enjoyed.
“We love doing the shopping. We treat it like we would do grocery shopping for ourselves. We try to be price-conscious and get healthy, quality items. We want people to have a good feeling about the food they’re eating; we want them to feel thought of and cared for.”
The Monday-Friday meal site once saw guests coming together to sit around tables and share in community, but during the pandemic the meals turned into to-go style, with bags of food handed to guests. In January, the meal site returned to its roots – round tables filled with people, plates of food, conversation, connection, and camaraderie.
“I think there’s a lot of positive things associated with the sit-down dinners. The camaraderie is such a good thing. It’s always interesting when you connect with people going through the food lines. I enjoy that time together and that feeling of being with people. Everyone is so grateful. The human interaction and connection is powerful. Meeting people where they’re at, making sure they know that people care about them, respecting them without judgement…that is so important. We believe very strongly in caring for the people in our community who need it. St. Paul is part of this community and gets involved in so many ways. That’s part of the reason I love St. Paul. We get as much or more out of it as the people who receive the food. I get excited and look ahead to see when the next meal date is.”
It takes a village to make this meal site run smoothly. Zion Lutheran Church is the physical location for the meal and Churches United is the group that coordinates. To express interest in volunteering contact Katy Warren, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zion Lutheran Church
Janine Johnson is a social worker and long-time member at Zion. She is also the Director of outreach ministries for Zion Lutheran Church in downtown Davenport, overseeing their food pantry, meal site partnership, and many other community projects.
“My call is to work with folks on the margins. It’s about the folks who have no voice. The folks at the meal site are so gracious and kind. People are just trying to find a place to be. For us, it’s making Zion available to people and the community to help serve and meet needs.”
When the Salvation Army meal site closed, Churches United was searching for a new location for that meal site to call home. And Zion answered the call.
“Churches United decided to brainstorm with Zion about how this location could work. We’re always looking for ways to use our space or allow other people to use our space. There were some great reasons to bring the site here. Zion is on a bus route; we’re centrally located in the city of Davenport. People can walk here. We provide the space, Churches United coordinates the rest.”
Serving meals five nights a week can be challenging. Slots must be filled by volunteer groups or the meal site is canceled for that evening. And more often, the community comes through for each other.
According to Betsy and Churches United, nearly 100 congregations and other groups serve meals to more than 20,000 hungry people each year. Churches United coordinates the event, providing plates, bowls, and other necessities each day. Individuals and families can visit the Zion meal site as often as every night if necessary.
St. Paul offerings provide around $1,500 in annual funding to So All May Eat, ensuring that healthy meals are provided at least a handful of times per year.
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is associated with numerous adverse social and health outcomes and is increasingly considered a critical public health issue. Key drivers of food insecurity include unemployment, poverty, and income shocks, all of which can prevent adequate access to food.
8.7% or 15,060 people in Scott County are food insecure.
11.6% or 16,590 people in Rock Island County are food insecure.
2020 statistics provided by Feeding America
Today, Thursday, February 23, St. Paul young adults will provide the next So All May Eat meal at Zion Lutheran Church.