Story and photos by Victor Izzo, email@example.com
Published with permission of The Times News, Lehighton
How does a hearty meal of baked ziti, salad, rolls, beverages and dessert sound for supper? How about the fact that this meal, which is "generous" in more ways than one, is also free? Well that was the case this past Sunday Sept. 28, 2008] thanks to the hard work, generosity and fellowship of dedicated volunteers of the Episcopal parish of St. Mark's and St. John's on Race Street in Jim Thorpe.
The free community supper is just one of the many "free community outreach programs" provided to the community by the church and it's parishioners. The parish has been doing this since 1998.
Some of the hard-working dedicated volunteers who make the free community supper and other community "outreach" programs possible are, front, left to right: Deb Fry, Gloria Remmel, Cheryl Horvath, and Judy Smith; rear, Karen Gasker, Judy Lennon, Tom Lager, and John Horvath. [Photo by Victor Izzo/Times News]
Dr. David O'Neill, DO gives a blood pressure reading to Mildred Snisky in conjunction with the free community supper, which was held last Sunday at St. Mark's and St. John's Episcopal Church on Race Street in Jim Thorpe. [Photo by Victor Izzo/Times News]
The idea for this program came from parishioners Karen Gasker and Tom Lager. Tom had been their Sunday School superintendent and Karen was a Sunday School teacher and they had seen a story about a restaurant up north which offered a free meal to people once a month. They both thought that it would be something the church should try. So, they presented the idea to the Vestry and the Vestry backed them on it and said "go ahead."
The church supplies the food, most of which is bought at local markets which help them out a lot, and parishioners do the baked goods. Sometimes though, on big holidays, they will order some extra pies from a local bakery. They receive a grant every year from the Mauch Chunk Trust Company which gives out money to help out with community programs.
The supper is held every month except for June, July, August and December. It is held on the 4th Sunday of the month from 4 to 6 p.m., unless there is a major holiday. Then it may be on the Sunday before the holiday.
It's open to the community with no restrictions. They'll feed anybody as long as they come in. At first, in the beginning, some people thought of it as just being for the poor or the destitute. The volunteers at the meal said "absolutely not". This was meant for anybody who wanted to walk in. You need not be a parishioner. This community outreach program by the members of the church has inspired people from other areas to try this also.
On average, they get anywhere from 125 to 150 people and sometimes at holiday meals like Thanksgiving and Easter they have served up to 200. A crew of volunteers comes in to help cook starting on Saturday and they finish up on Sunday from about 1 p.m. until serving time. They peel anywhere from 70 to 80 pounds of potatoes. They also clean up afterward and with a good gang of cleaning people, they're usually out of there by 7 p.m.
New this month, in addition to the free community supper, another community outreach program was made available for those who wished to take advantage of it. Free blood pressure testing was available this month and will be every month in the future along with the supper.
The testing was a done by a new physician to the area assisted by two nurses. Dr. David O'Neill, DO is an Osteopath associated with Lehighton Medical Associates which is an affiliate of St. Luke's Hospital and in Jim Thorpe is located at 1206 North Street next to the Mauch Chunk Pharmacy. Dr. O'Neill said that he is a fairly laid back guy who likes to take time with his patients and make them feel comfortable and do his best to get a resolution to their problems. Dr. O'Neill also noted that he likes it here and is presently accepting new patients.
In addition to the supper and blood pressure checks, St. Mark's and St. John's church and it's members have and want to try other community outreach programs that involve body, mind and spirit. They just started a Eucharistic Ministry with a few of the parishioners trained to go out and give Communion to the homebound and nursing home residents.
Narcotics Anonymous meets in the church every Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. and baby-sitting is available.
Also, Alcoholics Anonymous meets over in the Tollman House three times a week, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. New members are welcome in both programs. If anybody is interested in coming to a meeting, they can call the church office and they will give them the number of the person to reach. The church office number is 570-325-2241.
In the future, St. Mark's and St. John's church and it's members are going to do free soup and lectures on various subjects at the church maybe four or five times a year. This, along with all the other programs mentioned, are all part of their continuing effort to provide free outreach programs to the community.
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