Tuesday night marked a milestone for Lighthouse Ministries as the nonprofit christened the dining hall in its new building downtown on Spruce Street with a beef stroganoff dinner.
“This is really a monumental moment for us,” Lighthouse Executive Director Valerie “Tay” Henderson told dozens of guests and volunteers.
In 2015, Lighthouse Ministries served more than 40,000 free lunchtime meals to the community.
Its Dining with Dignity program will now begin serving dinner in the new facility on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays starting this month.
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In late spring, the organization plans to increase that to five nights a week, and by the end of the year, leaders expect to be serving dinner seven nights a week.
The program, conducted in partnership with the city and its Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention, relies on volunteers and food donations to provide the meals.
“Even though the food’s good, the fellowship is even better,” said Irma Beck, who lives across the street and often comes to the Lighthouse.
The new building, a renovated moving and storage facility, has 12,000 square feet and includes a larger kitchen, classrooms, meeting space and office space.
It will allow Lighthouse to use its other building at 185 Spruce Street solely for its men’s recovery program, Henderson said.
It also means guests who come to the Lighthouse will no longer have to eat in shifts. The old dining room could hold only 50 people, but the new one fits 191.
The new dining hall is named for Wayne Smith, who preached for nearly four decades at Southland Christian Church, and his late wife, Marjorie Smith.
Smith, who attended the dinner Tuesday, said he was “thrilled” with the honor, because it marks the first time his wife has been publicly recognized in such a way.
“I’ve received a lot of publicity and awards,” he said. “But Marge never did.”
The Wayne and Marge Smith Dining Hall features a poster-size portrait of the couple, who were married for 63 years before Marge Smith’s death in November 2014.
Smith said Marge Smith was a frugal woman who eschewed the spotlight but took care of everything his home life entailed.
“We were entirely different,” he said. “I didn’t sign a check until she died.”
While she would have appreciated the naming of the dining hall, Smith imagined she would have said, “Now you shouldn’t go to all that trouble for us.”
In addition to a hearty meal, guests at Tuesday night’s dinner were sent home with bottles of juice.
“This looks like a five-star restaurant to me,” David Hosey said of the new dining hall. “It’s something I’m not used to.”
Hosey said Lighthouse Ministries is a beacon of hope for him in the midst of his battle with addiction, a place he comes “to hear the word of God spoken.” He recalled a story Jesus told about a shepherd who left 99 sheep in the pasture to go look for one lost sheep.
“These people here go after the one that’s astray,” he said. “They make you feel like something.”