It starts on Tuesday in a nearby suburb in the early hours of the morning where a baker rises to start the day baking bread. As the dawn breaks customers come and go and continue to do so throughout the day buying bread to meet their daily needs. The door finally closes; the day’s takings are counted and a careful eye is cast over the shop as remaining loaves of bread are set aside.
On Wednesday morning, a car stops at the bakery where the baker greets the driver with a welcome smile. Together they carry the leftover bread to the waiting car that delivers it to the Seventh-day Adventist church hall down the road. At 10 am people begin to gather there. Between 18 and 28 are there each week. A community meal is offered free of charge to anyone who wants one and the bread from the bakery is placed there for anyone to take.
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Over time the potluck meal has become a regular mid-week get together for the down and out, those out of luck and those wanting company. It serves a simple nutritious meal funded from the local church members many of whom are low-income retirees.
It’s our way of being connected to the community and helping out. We like to have a chat and help make people feel better for coming here
…says Joanne a regular greeter of the people who come each week. When the meal is over volunteers take the leftover bread that has been delivered to the church and take it to a nearby charity shop to be given away.
This simple practical connection to the local community has seen many Wednesday meal recipients choose to also come along to the Sabbath services and stay for the weekly church potluck meal. It’s a no-nonsense approach where anyone is free to come along and be part of the meal, Wednesdays and Saturdays. No questions are asked; no obligations are created. It works well and seamlessly as church members sit at tables with community members and talk as regular members of the community.
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Like the idea? Here’s how you can start out to connect to your community in hosting a potluck for those out of luck.
1. Create a Welcoming Atmosphere
Nothing says welcome as a welcome sign outside that is followed up by a friendly greeter at the door. Don’t go over the top, just be friendly and helpful. Most of all, be genuine in welcoming people from all types of backgrounds and circumstances.
2. Share the Joy of Conversation
People like to feel connected to a community through conversations. Some are more listeners than talkers, some silent participants and others are actively engaged in a good chat. Whatever the case keep topics upbeat as much as possible, supportive and positive. Local topics build local community ties and connections. Focus on these where you can.
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3. Finding Local Food Connections
Whether it be from a market garden, a cafe, a bakery or supermarket, ask around and you may find some local free food connections that help fund the regular potluck meals. Mention what you are doing and invite potential suppliers of food to come along and see for themselves.
Having a productive onsite vegetable garden is also another source of food. Business people in the community may offer a donation for food supplies, as may nearby churches of other denominations. Working together with others you can soon develop a valuable local community meal service. Pray for a way to open in providing enough food.
4. Vary the Menu
There will be favorite meal items that you enjoy to prepare and the potluck visitors enjoy the most. Keep these as regular items for everyone to want to come back for. But do vary the menu to cater to a variety of needs across the seasonal produce you are able to access.
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5. Get to Know People
We all can be nervous about meeting people for the first time. Practice helps perfect this with a simple open approach to meet new people and understand them from the stories they tell. Be open and friendly, avoid any harsh comments or judgments. Take the attitude that if you want a friend you need to be a friend.
6. Promote Paying It Forward
Some places have a donation box on a table to encourage people to give to help defray expenses. Some charge a small amount as an offset for incidental costs. However by and large a potluck by its very name is a free meal where all are free to contribute food and try what is available. There is no obligation to bring anything along for the community members.
Perhaps the most useful approach is to adopt a pay it forward principle. A simple sign saying, “If you have been blessed today by someone helping you pay it forward and help someone else in the week ahead” is suitable. It’s the golden rule in action.
Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31 NIV).
7. Have Some Stories to Share
People like to be connected in conversation to what is happening around them. The news of a new baby for a local family, the death of a well-known local identity, a new family arrived in the community, a sick person in the hospital, the impact of road changes; all these stories bring a sense of connectedness.
8. Keep a Supply of Local Services Flyers
The potluck meal will attract a wide variety of people many of whom may need to seek assistance from agencies in the community. Having a rack with a supply of local services flyers will be useful as a quick referral service when you hear of people’s needs. Giving them an on the spot flyer will help these people make the connections to services they need to access. Keep these flyers up-to-date and be on the lookout for new services that become available.
9. Have a Notice Board
Having a large notice board near the entrance of the potluck meal allows people to see upcoming events and post notices themselves for items of need and prayer. Join the mailing list of local community organizations and you can display suitable notices and posters that you receive. Appointing someone to check that the notice board is up to date and fresh in its display could be a task allocated to one of the regular attendees.
10. Find Ways to Include People
Passive potlucks make for passive people. Find ways to include those that come along. Ask for help in setting up the tables and setting out the cutlery. Invite participants to come early and help prepare the meal or stay behind and help with the washing up. Make them feel part of the community activity and a valued part of the group. Seek to develop skills and leadership where there is potential to serve and shine.
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11. Create a Prayer Circle
Prayer is powerful. Have a regular prayer with the meal. Make it short and relevant. Invite others to mention people in need and form a prayer circle that will pray for people during the week.
12. Survey Your Attendees
A good way to see if you are meeting the food needs of everyone at the potluck is to regularly survey those attending. You may otherwise be unaware of special dietary needs of the group attending. There may be gluten-free people with celiac disease, people with allergies or diabetics requiring a low GI diet. Making adjustments to meet these needs will keep the potluck focused on the people attending.
When your potluck is up and running and humming along well, invite people from other churches at a distance who may be interested in starting their own. This will help create a chain connection that builds a wider community and spreads the love of Christian fellowship.