Lexington church's Sunday lunch program for homeless adjusts to new location

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comDecember 22, 2013 

They came in loose packs, strolling together but usually not with one another, mostly silent as they worked their way across the parking lot.

There were lots of men, a few women, almost all in coats although Sunday's weather was unseasonably warm. These folks carry what's theirs with them.

Gary Blake, who knows most of them, greeted them by name.

"Come have some lunch," he encouraged, standing near a table with ham, corn, green beans and sweets. "Grab a plate."

Most didn't need to be told twice. The line was long-ish and a little bit slow as the number in need overwhelmed the few volunteers, whose ranks were reduced, Blake said, because they "were out Christmas-ing."

Blake and the other volunteers from Hill N Dale Christian Church have been at this location at Lexington-Fayette County Health Department on Newtown Pike only since about October, serving lunch on Sundays at 1 p.m. The church had fed the needy at Phoenix Park near the downtown branch of the Lexington Public Library since 2002, sometimes drawing 80 people for a Sunday meal. When the park was renovated this past summer, complaints were raised about disruptions and trash, and the church, with help from the city, found a new location to serve Sunday lunch.

Blake said the new spot had its advantages. It's close to the Hope Center; it's on bus routes. There is an awning out front that the church uses for shelter when it rains. And, he said, most weeks someone from the health department is there, helping to connect the people getting food with other services.

It's been hard to predict how many will show from week to week, he said. Last week, seven people came to the health department parking lot. This week there were several dozen. Blake is sure the number will pick up as more people who spend their days walking the streets work the new Sunday locale into their routes.

On Sunday, volunteer Ronnie Bean was staffing three stations, serving ham, green beans and corn. "This is how you do it, baby," said Bean, as he kept the line moving briskly. He said he was homeless not too long ago but now has a place to stay and two places to work. He comes down to volunteer and to get some food.

"It's what you got to do," Bean said, wearing plastic gloves to serve and emphasizing his point with a serving spoon. "You have got to give back. I used to be on the other side of this table."

Blake said the church calls the project an "encouragement mission." So many of the people it helps get looked through, not at. They don't have much real contact with people. Along with the meal, he said, the volunteers share prayers when asked. They also pray for people throughout the week. They listen as folks talk about what they need most, which might be socks or a few hours of work for a day. Bean likes to give out hugs.

"So many of these folks, the guys and ladies, they don't have a whole lot of hope," Blake said. A plate of warm food and a friendly smile can go a long way to show that "people still care about them and they are still loved and can be treated as people."

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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