Mary and Bill Messer expected their retirement to be long, halcyon days of sitting on their porch, reading books and visiting friends.
Instead, retirement has turned out to be surprisingly busy, which also surprisingly, is just fine with them. Two years ago, they were put in charge of the meal program at Grace Baptist Church, and now their days are spent preparing meals twice a week for anyone who needs them.
On a recent Monday in the basement of Grace Baptist's activities building, Mary Messer, 67, ladled hot chili into bowls. Then she put sandwiches next to them, along with crackers, while all the time making sure the coffee pot was filled, and everyone had salads and dessert, too.
"She goes like that all the time," said an admiring Gayle Rooney, who also volunteers. "She plans it and cooks it and serves it. I don't know how she does it all."
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On this particular Monday, only about 70 people showed up to be served a hot meal. On Thursdays, Messer estimates, they make about 1,000 bag lunches for people to take home.
The meals program was started by the Elkhorn Baptist Association, which has 13 member churches, all of which send volunteers to Grace Baptist's Bryan Avenue building every week.
"We are so lucky to have so many good people who give up their own time to help us," said Mary Messer.
But it's she and Bill who make it happen. There's no budget for the program, so Bill Messer drives to God's Pantry every day to see what bulk items can be donated. Then they'll make the rounds of local bakeries for extra bread and hit some other stores to see if anyone can spare some food.
Making 1,000 lunches, for example, requires 100 loaves of bread for sandwiches. But Mary Messer says it all works out, with some divine intervention.
"Say this week, I was making chili, and someone dropped off 12 boxes of Saltines," she said. "Some weeks, we really pray and we have never, ever failed. The Lord really does provide for us."
They serve anyone who comes, the homeless and homed, the unemployed and underemployed. The Thursday meal starts about 3:30 p.m. as a sit-down affair where volunteers bring folks their meal, and serve them coffee and dessert at decorated tables.
"We want them to come in and sit down and let us serve them," Mary Messer said.
The Messers say they serve but receive ample rewards.
"I am so much more empathetic than I was," Mary Messer said. "Any of us are one paycheck away from calamity. People ask us to pray for them, and they come back and share their success stories, and that's really uplifting."
Bill Messer said he's tired on Mondays and Thursdays, but "I get as much out of this as they do. I used to not pay attention. Now I want to come every day, and most of the time, I do."
Jerry Turner is a regular. He works across the street at B&B Tire, working long hours in cold weather, and is glad to get his hot meal at Grace Baptist most Mondays.
"They're good people," Turner said. "They help the best way they can."