Last meal set for Food for the Multitude

John Thompson • Mar 15, 2012 at 10:32 PM

ELIZABETHTON — For more than 26 years a group of dedicated workers from a small handful of churches have been serving up a hearty meal to the poor every Saturday. Food for the Multitude will serve its last meal on Saturday unless another church is able to provide a kitchen and serving area for the weekly operation.

“We have outgrown the space” Joe Muncey said of the decision to end the cooking and serving in the tiny kitchen of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. The other churches that are a part of Food for the Multitude are Memorial Presbyterian, First Presbyterian, Southside Christian, First United Methodist and St. Elizabeth’s Catholic.

“This is a sad moment for us, maybe God is closing a door, but we are trying to be as open as we can be to what he wants,” Muncey said.

Food for the Multitude has always followed scripture in providing their service, especially “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

“We are hopeful we might be able to keep going,” Muncey said. “We would love for another church to step forward.”

Muncey said all that is needed is a kitchen. Through the years, Food for the Multitude has acquired most of the equipment it needs, including items as big as commercial freezers and refrigerators to pots, pans and serving utensils.

The churches take turns serving the poor, so every five or six weeks it is their turn again. The meals have always been served at St. Thomas.

Last Saturday was St. Elizabeth’s turn to serve and a dedicated and experienced crew of workers quickly turned out more than 300 servings of spaghetti and meatballs, carrots and green beans, rolls and cake.

Chuck Muraski was helping at St. Elizabeth’s. He estimated that more than 400,000 meals have been served over the years.

When asked about the common perception that the government is there to help the needy and there is no need for the churches to take up Food for the Multitude’s task. Muraski said the people who come to the agency have a variety of problems, including disabilities, homelessness, and economic problems that have only grown worse in the past few years.

Both Chuck and his wife, Linda, told the same story of one who had fallen through the cracks.

They said a young woman came for the meal one cold winter Saturday. She had no coat, but was wearing a blanket. Since the group receives government commodities, they must keep a record of who is served, and so the woman was asked for her name and address.

The woman was hesitant to give her address. At some point, they noticed the blanket was moving and they found out she was holding her baby under the blanket. They learned she had been living in a tent in the woods in Dennis Cove.

“We found her help that day,” Linda said. “She did not go back to her tent.”

For years, they served a young man who had been a brilliant student in high school but who had been badly injured in an accident. He came every Saturday for the meal as he gradually regained the use of his body.

“We haven’t seen him in several years,” Linda said.

Through the years, the members of Food for the Multitude have gotten to know the people and the problems of the people they serve.

Elaine Pate, one member from St. Elizabeth’s who was working on Saturday, said her service has taught her that “everything is not perfect. You realized the world is not as good a place as you thought it was.”

With such an understanding of the need, Pate would not be anywhere else on the weekend when it is St. Elizabeth’s turn to serve, even though last Saturday was Elaine and her husband Bill’s 41st anniversary. They wouldn’t mind giving up more anniversaries if Food for the Multitude finds a new home.

Muncey said anyone with ideas on how Food for the Multitude can continue should call Memorial Presbyterian Church at 543-2711.

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