Serving up companionship and warm food with warm hearts

The Community Meal, which is held in the United Church of Johnson, provides the people of Johnson not only with a home-cooked meal, but also with a safe space to gather and form connections. Last month, I assisted with the meal through the SERVE office.

Upon arriving there, I was immediately greeted with the sweet smell of warm stew. The room was set up nicely, with plenty of tables and chairs for patrons to come. At first, I didn’t see anyone, but after a moment I found Rick Aupperlee, one of the founders of the Meal, busily buzzing around in the kitchen in the back. He had a kind face and greeted me warmly, expressing his appreciation for my coming to help. It was just him in the kitchen that day, hurriedly checking the food and rushing to bring in dirty dishes so there wasn’t a pile at the end. All he asked of me was to plate the food as people came down the line, even though I’m sure he could’ve used more help.

Everyone I encountered there was very kind and smiled at me, some even asked me how my day was. They all seemed appreciative of the meal and many of them came with friends. The last thing you could say about the Community Meal is that it’s stuffy or uptight. The patrons sat chattering away and laughing loudly with one another, families came together, and children asked their mothers if they’d been good enough to have desert. A young man, who I later discovered is an exchange student here, came and sat with complete strangers. The group embraced him, and soon enough they were carrying on as if they’d already known each other. Although seeing everyone talking warmly with one another was wonderful, I most remember the man who sat alone. He spoke very little to anyone else at the meal, coming back for seconds and quietly thanking me. He seemed cold, both in demeanor and physicality, but as he was leaving, he flashed me what is likely the purest smile I’ve ever seen. It melted any perception coldness I could’ve had.

While it is only a short time, lasting from roughly 11:30 to 12:30, the Community Meal provides a space for the people of Johnson to congregate and form deeper connections with their neighbors. Especially during the cold months, a warm meal goes a long way.