WINDSOR, VT. – It was an idyllic fall evening as a warm sun settled on russet leaves outside the Windsor American Legion, but the hustle and bustle of 5th and 6th graders breathed life into the quietude at the hall as they prepared to serve a free community dinner.
People, young and old, gather at the post once a week for the community meal.
Teresa Westgate and Andrew Tufts, teachers at State Street School, had organized members of the student council and enlisted parents to prepare a variety of offerings ranging from a garden salad and homemade macaroni and cheese, to soups and pulled pork. There was also a desert table that included pastries and bread donated by the local Price Chopper Supermarket.
The community meal was the idea of Pastor Mandy Lape-Freeberg of the Old South Church, to address local hunger that resulted after the economic recession of 2009.
“I am not the type of pastor that says God is always talking to me, telling me what to do,” Lape-Freeberg said. “Three nights in a row, I was awoken with words from the Old Testament in my head: ‘You all say peace when there is no peace.’”
Shortly afterwards she met with other local pastors, and soon what seemed like a difficult proposition came together nearly effortlessly, the pastor said.
It was decided four local churches would take one Wednesday per month from September through June to serve a free community meal.
After the first year, the number of meals became overly burdensome for some, so the organizers reached out to the local community.
Currently the emergency department, medical-surgical unit, and rehab unit at Mount Ascutney Hospital in Windsor take turns with the Old South Church, the Elks Lodge, the Rotary Club, and the Masons, including the Rainbow Girls, and the 5th and 6th grade student council at the local elementary school.
“The community dinner gives all the different groups in our community the chance to get together and interact,” Lape-Freeburg said. “Some of the seniors are lonely and like having someone to talk with.”
At one table a group of regulars gathers early for a game of cards. The relaxed environment is very conducive to intermingling and meeting new people.
According to an unnamed senior, “kids need to put down their electronics and get out and talk with people. Old people have a lifetime of knowledge and experience to share. It is a shame that our culture does not value us.”
At the very first community meal, Lape-Freeberg posed a question to the 12 participants: “Who here would not have eaten tonight?”
The response from an elderly woman was, “Mandy, we are hungry for so much more than food.”
Windsor Community Dinners are held every Wednesday at 5 p.m. from September through June at the Windsor American Legion post.