Lincoln Avenue UMC provides free weekly school lunches

Up to 170 Shadyside students fed each Thursday

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON WAITING FOR students to arrive for their first free lunch of the year at Lincoln Avenue United Methodist Church on Thursday are, front from left, Bette Day, Kay Krupa, Melissa Barton and Mike Miracle. And, in the back row from left, are Gordon and Ardell Ganer, Methodist missionaries visiting the church, and the Rev. Seth Filburn, pastor of the church.

SHADYSIDE — For the past 11 years, Shadyside students in seventh through 12th grades have been treated to a free weekly lunch made by the ladies and gents at Lincoln Avenue United Methodist Church.

Each Thursday a meal is prepared for between 130 and 170 students at the church’s cafeteria, which is located just a few feet from the high school building on Lincoln Avenue.

The Rev. Seth Filburn, pastor of Lincoln Avenue UMC, said the students only have about 30 minutes to eat, so the process is a quick one.

“It’s a whirlwind,” he said of the cooking and serving activity.

“The high school doesn’t have a cafeteria in it. My understanding is that the ladies of the church learned the high school students had to walk to the middle school for lunch. It was not a popular walk across town, so they started serving meals here. … It started out once a month, it progressed into twice a month and now it’s every single Thursday,” he said.

Filburn said the types of meals vary, but they are served hot. For example, this school year’s first lunch was served Thursday and consisted of rigatoni, bread sticks, peaches, a dessert and a drink.

“We have other meals like chicken nuggets, soups, taco in a bowl. There’s a pretty good variety. There are two or three who meet in the summer and plan the meals. The church is pretty committed to it. It’s a good thing we do here,” Filburn added.

Filburn said the volunteers start prepping food early in the morning the day of the lunch. They are led by Melissa Barton, who oversees the ordering of the food used for the meals.

Barton estimated the lunch costs the church about $300-400 per week to put on.

“My understanding is that it is provided from the church. We haven’t asked the community to help,” Filburn said.

“We worked some football game concessions, and money was earned from that. A month ago we sent out letters to some of the oil and gas companies in Belmont County. … We’re waiting on a response from that,” he added.

Barton said the students are always grateful for the food they receive and are very polite, saying “please” and “thank you.”

“The kids are so appreciative,” Barton said. “We even have some teachers come over. The principal (John Poilek) has come over to check on the kids.”

Barton said the church also has an afterschool program called Jesus and Me, or JAM, for students in third through sixth grades. It, too, is held on Thursdays, which allows the volunteers to give the youngsters leftovers from the free lunch. Barton said the program usually sees about 40 children each week.

Barton said the church’s congregation continues to be supportive of the free lunch program after all these years. She said donations are always welcome and can be sent to Lincoln Avenue UMC, 3838 Lincoln Ave., Shadyside, OH 43935.

“We want kids to know a safe environment, a hot meal and a welcome place,” she said. “For some kids, this is their only meal” of the day.

Brooke Reager, a junior at Shadyside High, said she enjoyed her lunch on Thursday.

“It’s good. It’s nice to come here and eat as a group. The church is nice to do this for us,” Reager said.

Senior Nate Dunfee described the food made by the church as “decently made” before getting a second plate to eat during the first lunch of the new school year.

“I like free food,” he said.