PERU - The congregation of Peru Community Church understands it may be difficult to stretch dollars during difficult economic times, but it doesn't want people to go without basic nutrition.
The church recently established the PeaceMeal program, which provides "hot food and warm fellowship" on Saturday evenings to those in need.
Linda Shepard, who oversees the program, said it came about through a discussion raised by the church's pastor, the Rev. Dr. Robert E. Svenson.
"He had read an article about the number of children in America who go to bed hungry and it was a really high statistic," recalled Shepard. Svenson had asked if any of the church members would be interested in providing at least one meal a week for the community to help bring down the statistics on the local level, said Shepard.
A committee was formed and the issue was studied to determine if there was an actual need in the community. As it turned out, there was. Approximately 800 children within the Peru Central School District qualified for free or reduced school lunches, she said.
"So, we decided we would have a meal on Saturday nights because the kids had no school lunches that day," said Shepard.
Instead of calling the program a "soup kitchen," said Shepard, the committee called it PeaceMeal, with the idea of reducing the stigma associated with receiving assistance, especially with a free meal.
"I think some people hear the term 'soup kitchen' and think 'Oh, everyone's going to know I'm destitute.' It's really not the case," said Shepard. "It's an opportunity for people to have a nice supper together and meet people and have some fellowship."
The program served its first meal Nov. 15, with Shepard crediting an anonymous donor for getting the project started with a $1,000 contribution. Thus far, PeaceMeal - which has the motto"Feed the Need" - has relied on the generosity of donors to fund the meals and the volunteer efforts of Peru Community Church and St. Augustine's Church members to serve them.
"We have a really dynamic, energetic group that's been putting on the dinners," said Shepard. "So, we definitely need to spread the word and have people realize it's a fun thing to go to and positive."
Though the program was primarily started to assist the single parent or the elderly person having trouble making ends meet, no one will be turned away, Shepard said, and there is no requirement to show proof of income to attend.
"If people know someone they think could use [the program], they could always bring them," said Shepard. "I think we're going to have some harder economic times and we have to work together as a community to get each other through."
PeaceMeal will continue Saturday evenings at 5:30 p.m. through the winter. The meals are held in the Peru Community Church Fellowship Center, located at 13 Elm St.
For more information, call Shepard at 643-9719 or the church at 643-8641.
Donations toward the program, including items such as juice boxes, spaghetti or canned goods, may be delivered to the church or by contacting Shepard in advance.