By Alex Kline
SOLON– With Christmas quickly approaching, members of Our Lord’s Church aren’t just scrambling to put together their own meals for their families and friends, they are also preparing for a feast to feed over 50 people at their small location on Highway 1.
The church has been providing the free Christmas meal in Solon for nine years. Members of the community and those just passing by are welcome to join the church on Wednesday, Dec. 25, to enjoy a traditional feast with no strings attached.
“We only have one requirement,” said church member Duane McAtee. “We do require that you take home some food with you.”
The meal will start at noon and will end when everyone has had his or her fill.
The church saw a large group at this year’s free Thanksgiving meal. Nearly 70 people enjoyed the banquet whether they were eating in or had the meal delivered.
Though the group expects to see less at Christmas, they aren’t holding back.
While the building doesn’t even have a kitchen, members of the church are planning on hosting 50 to 60 people this year and are providing enough food to feed a small army.
Members of the small church will bring around twenty pounds of beef, two hams, and three turkeys and “all the fixings.” Don’t forget the two tables of full of desserts and two tables of salad and bread.
There will be plenty to share and to take home.
“Our church is built on giving back to the community,” said McAtee. “Our meals are not just for the needy, they are open to anyone that wants to come.”
It isn’t just people from Solon showing up for these meals, McAtee said. People from surrounding communities like Mount Vernon, North Liberty, and Cedar Rapids, as well as those who happen to drive by partake in the meal.
“We kind of pull them in,” McAtee said. “All you have to do is walk in and see these people that might not know the other people, but they are laughing and having a good time. You know it’s a success.”
McAtee said that he would also deliver meals for Christmas for those who can’t make it in.
“I think the important thing is the contact on Christmas. They get to see someone,” said McAtee, who also serves as the site manager for the Solon Old Gold Diner meal site. “I think it’s just a warm feeling just to talk to someone and just be with someone on Christmas.”
The church’s pastor, Dennis Arnold, said that outreach to the community was the church’s main mission and that providing holiday meals was a good fit. Because the church has such a small congregation, around 35 people, Pastor Arnold said that this was something the group could afford to do.
“The ministries at Our Lord’s Church usually revolve around food,” said pastor Arnold. “We take hunger seriously.”
The church, which can fit 75 people, sees mostly people who are alone on Christmas because of distance from family, loss of spouse, elderly citizens and small families.
Church member Larry Meister said he enjoyed participating in the event because he gets to see the enjoyment the community gets out of it.
“Christmas is a down time for a lot of people,” Meister said. “This is a place they can come to have a traditional Christmas meal.”
He added that while the group does receive a lot of compliments about the meal, they aren’t in it for the compliments.
“We do it for the community,” he said.
Beyond the beautiful spread, members of the church recognize that something much more important seems to be happening at these meals.
“A lot of these people don’t have a lot of contact with strangers besides coming to this meal,” said McAtee. “It’s strangers talking and laughing with strangers.”
Pastor Arnold agreed, adding that in a friendly community like Solon, events like this can create meaningful and lasting relationships.
“It’s just a big party,” said Pastor Arnold. “What we have found is those that come in to the meal become friends.”
Though the church does ask for reservations, they are not required. Anyone is welcome to walk-in and enjoy the meal.
“It isn’t the food, it’s the connection,” McAtee said. “But the food is darn good, too.”