Serving Our Neighbors, One Meal at a Time
More than 48 million Americans struggle to put enough food on the table.* No matter where you live, you’re likely not far from someone living below the poverty level. At age 17, Jared Thompson realized that he and his church could do more for people in their neighborhood. With the help of a few experienced volunteers, Jared organized the Me-‘N-U Community Meal at Aldersgate United Methodist Church to serve a free meal once a week.
“We only serve one meal a week, so I am not expecting to change anyone’s life,” Jared says. “But we do want to make things a little easier for those in need. By serving this meal, we can give struggling families one night a week that they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from.”
The Me-‘N-U volunteers typically serve more than 100 people each week. As people start to arrive, volunteers greet them warmly, seat them at a table decorated with flowers, and take their orders. “We don’t want visitors to worry about anything,” says Jared. “We’re here to serve them.”
Several volunteers, including Jared, have built relationships with the people they serve. “We’ve learned their stories and become their friends,” says Jared. “Getting to know the people who come to our meal has changed the perspective of many of our volunteers, especially the younger ones. It’s helped them realize that everyone’s situation is different, and they all deserve the same care and compassion.”
Jared recalled one family in particular that was touched by the Me-‘N-U ministry:
“There was a woman who started coming with just her children,” Jared remembers. “She had been in and out of jobs and was living in a house built by Habitat for Humanity. She invited her sister to the first Thanksgiving meal we served. The sight of the table decorations and Thanksgiving dinner with all of the trimmings being served to them brought tears to her sister’s eyes. The family continues to come to the meal every week and brings new people with them every Thanksgiving.”
Planting a Servant’s Heart in Youth
Serving the community isn’t Jared’s only objective for the Me-‘N-U ministry. He hopes it will inspire other young people to become leaders and develop similar programs in their communities. Since the beginning, Jared has emphasized recruiting teens, so they can learn the skills needed to manage mission and non-profit programs successfully.
Now studying non-profit management at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Jared has passed his leadership role to younger volunteers. But he always returns during summer and college breaks.
“I try to always make myself available to answer questions and offer advice to the younger volunteers,” says Jared. “But I couldn’t be happier with the success of the ministry. When I come home from college during breaks, I don’t have to worry about anything because it’s all taken care of. I just show up and serve.”
* Source: Household Food Security in the United States, 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2011.