North End Community Ministry
Laura Castle, Executive Director
On a typical Tuesday, at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church cafeteria in Grand Rapids, MI, guests can be found sitting at tables being served by volunteer waiters, all receiving a hot, nutritious meal served with dignity and respect in a restaurant type setting. North End Community Ministry (NECM) maintains that all people have a ‘Basic Right to Food,’ so in addition to their broad range of Food Pantry services they also provide this free weekly meal that’s open to anyone in the community.
When attending, guests can often be found sitting at the same table every week – sometimes a table of people they met through Supper House! It’s a place where people who live alone can find fellowship and support, where members of the community can gather for an informal discussion of important issues, and where friends and family can meet over a shared meal – like the four siblings who’ve been gathering there every week for years.
Supper House also provides an opportunity for the staff from NECM to form deeper connections with the people they serve and to uncover challenges that might otherwise remain hidden. NECM’s Executive Director, Laura Castle, shared the story of a woman who came for dinner and mentioned to diners at her table that she was about to be evicted. From there, word spread and staff were able to jump in and facilitate assistance for this woman to stay in her home – all because of the connections developed over a shared meal.
The program averages 125 to 150 diners a night. Sometimes a keyboardist comes by to play music during the meals. On other occasions, nursing students from Calvin University might come to provide blood pressure and blood sugar screenings for the guests. Joy is to be had during the holidays, as a special meal is served at both Thanksgiving time and Christmas, together with gifts distributed to the whole family!
Laura Castle started Supper House in 2003. She had heard about another program called Supper House in Muskegon and was inspired to start a similar program in the Grand Rapids area. They hired a coordinator and soon had 50 people coming each night. NECM has long maintained relationships with more than 20 local churches that assist with volunteers, resources and financial support for its programs. It appeared to be a great fit to enlist those churches in Supper House, and all these years later many of them continue to faithfully serve. A few other community organizations also assist periodically.
A church or organization adopts an evening, paying $250 to cover the cost of the meal and providing 10-12 volunteers to set-up, serve, visit with guests and clean-up. Some groups sign-up once a month, others once a year, and on those rare occasions where a date is left unfilled, the coordinators from NECM just need to put out the call and volunteers show up. At the time the pandemic came on the scene in March of 2020, Supper House was temporarily put on hold, with plans to reopen again when it was safe. Now, as vaccinations increase and infection rates drop, Supper House is finally back. As of July, NECM’s neighbors can once again be seen streaming in to join their new found friends at the table, where Supper House has long been serving as a focal point for the community.
To learn more, click here – http://necmgr.org/programs-and-services/northeast-supper-house/