Middletown church hopes food, fellowship breaks down walls

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Dinner and pantry expand church outside its walls

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Middletown downtown church is taking its ministry outside its walls.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 212 S. Broad St., started serving food and fellowship to local residents during what it calls Second Saturday Supper several years ago, and recently built a Tiny Pantry House that’s stocked with free winter items, said Pastor Michelle Terry.

The outreach projects show the church is “following its marching orders” by knocking down the walls that separated it from the community, she said.

Terry said Second Saturday — named because that’s the date of the monthly dinners — is an “attempt to connect with our neighbors” because the congregation became “fairly separated” from the community.

“We came into church and we left,” she said of the congregation’s mentality. “It was an attempt to get to know our neighbors again.”

During the once-a-month meals, church members bring in prepared meals and serve needy local residents at 5 p.m. The goal is to give them a safe and warm place to eat and possibly introduce them to church, she said. Church volunteers also play games and perform music with their guests, Terry said.

Kitty Blattner, a church member who is active in the program, said as many as 60 residents have been served. There are “no strings attached,” she said.

By inviting the community to the free meals, Terry said the church is “removing a barrier that was built” around the church.

After the success of Second Saturday, the church’s council members discussed ways to continue the momentum in the ministry. They pitched the idea of providing an around-the-clock food pantry, one that wouldn’t require much manpower.

Then Bill Maichle, a church member, built a Tiny Pantry out of wood and placed it near the church’s parking lot. The pantry is filled with items that were donated by church members, other downtown churches and local residents. Right now, most of the items are winter clothing, but once the weather turns warmer, it will be stocked with canned goods and garden vegetables.

“If you need it, take it,” said Sherry Swanson, a church and council member. “We know the word will spread.”

When the pantry is running low on items, it’s restocked, she said.

Terry said the church is considering other ways to “continue welcoming people into our doors and meeting their needs.”