Coming together

St. John’s celebrates five years of bringing the community together through monthly Community Outreach Luncheons

From left to right, St. John’s Lutheran Church members Toni Beamer, Frank Neumann, Joe and Patricia Antonelli are among the monthly Community Outreach Luncheon volunteers. The next luncheon is scheduled for Saturday, May 12, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

By Krista Cerminaro

St. John’s Lutheran Church is celebrating five years of community outreach this year through its series of luncheons. On Saturday, May 12, the church will host its monthly Community Outreach Luncheon, an event open to all Williamstown residents, on the second Saturday of each month.

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“They don’t have to be members of our church, there’s no proselytizing,” church council member and volunteer Frank Neumann said. “Anybody’s welcome, everybody’s welcome.”

While the luncheon volunteers aim to provide hot meals to those who need it, its purpose extends much further. The event simply serves as an opportunity for everyone — regardless of religion or income — to come together and socialize.

“We don’t have any kind of regulations or anything … we don’t ask. Anybody’s welcome to come,” volunteer Joe Antonelli said. “There are people that come here, and they tell us this is kind of like the social event of the month for them. They come and hang out with their friends.”

“I know some senior citizens that are embarrassed to ask for help, but because it’s open to anyone and they can just come, it helps them stretch their budget without feeling embarrassed,” volunteer Toni Beamer added.

The buffet-style luncheon is funded through an annual charity golf tournament, where church members invite family and friends to help raise money to provide the meals each month. Businesses can sponsor holes for $150 at the tournament, where attendees will enjoy golf, a meal, prize giveaways and putting contests.

According to Antonelli, the fundraiser profits roughly $3,500 to $4,000, which helps to cover the cost of food and paper products for the entire year.

Additionally, desserts are often donated by parishioners, and meats are provided by Dietz and Watson at discounted, or sometimes no cost, with the help of parishioner Yvonne Thatcher.

“I’m just proud of the fact that it’s lasted this long,” Antonelli said. “There were some people that said, ‘you’re never going to be able to pull this off.’ Now, we’ve done it for five years and we have a great group of people that come out to volunteer to help every month.”

Volunteers help with everything from kitchen tasks, to setup and breakdown, to serving the food. According to Antonelli’s wife, Patricia, confirmation kids also come in and help as part of their volunteer hours, which brings them joy to see firsthand how appreciative the attendees are.

Antonelli came up with the idea a few years back, when his pastor asked church council members to come up with ideas on how they could better serve their community. At the time, the church was involved with Interfaith Hospitality Network and would often host homeless families.

“I was just touched by the fact that you see these young kids not knowing where they were going to sleep every night, not knowing where they were going to eat,” Antonelli explained. “So I thought maybe we can come up with some kind of a way to provide some meals.”

While many were on board, Antonelli said he received some criticism about how he’d get people to help with the luncheons or pay the expenses.

“Our first luncheon, I do remember this — I think we only served 12 meals, if I’m not mistaken. It was some ridiculously low number, and we were like, ‘this is not going anywhere,’” Antonelli said. “We’re up to the point now where we’re averaging well over 100 meals served every month. Our highest record was November a couple years ago — we [served] about 220 meals.”

Patricia said attendees are also able to take out food as they need it, for their families or anyone else unable to stop by themselves.

“They shop for their neighbors, too. They look out for one another. So if a neighbor isn’t able to get here, they’ll grab a carry out,” Neumann added. “They’ll take five or six, and they may use that for the rest of the week, to eat.”

Despite the nature of the event, the volunteers agreed that the most rewarding part of it all is hearing the stories and gratitude from those they’re helping.

Neumann explained at one of the luncheons, a woman wrote a handwritten thank-you note, and had all the attendees sign it to give to the volunteers.

“It was unsolicited — I mean, it was just from the heart,” Neumann said.

“They just come and have a good time, have a good meal, enjoy themselves, [and] socialize,” Patricia added. “I definitely think that it brings the community together.”

The luncheon will take place this Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the education building of St. John’s, located at 1002 S. Main St. in Williamstown.

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