ST. MARYS — Each Wednesday, community members in need or people just looking for fellowship gather at First United Methodist Church on North St. Marys Street to enjoy “Bowls of Love.”
Vada Liptak, 88, of St. Marys, as well as other church and local volunteers, serve a home-cooked meal to the community. They serve 50-70 people each week, Liptak said.
One of the missions of FUMC is to help serve the community and those in need, Liptak says.
Liptak, who has attended the church basically all her life, comes up with menu items for the month, such as grilled cheese and tomato soup, pork and sauerkraut, and spaghetti, which is a favorite, and schedules volunteers.
Bowls of Love is a team effort, Liptak says. Every Wednesday, five people come early in the day to cook. Four men usually do the dishes, and a member usually makes and donates a dessert. A different volunteer helps serve the meal each week, and each one never serves more than once a month.
The church purchases all the food for the meals, and people and businesses also contribute by donating items, Liptak says. Places such as Pizza Hut and Dee Dee’s Bakery donate leftovers like pizza or donuts that people can also take home with them to eat at another time.
Liptak’s 98-year-old brother, Urban Ginther, attended the church for grilled cheese night on Oct. 3. The tables were filled with people of all ages who enjoyed a classic grilled cheese and tomato soup meal, as well as a cup of coffee or iced tea.
Liptak is a retired elementary school teacher, and says it’s just engrained within her to help people.
“It’s a great satisfaction,” she said. “People don’t only come for food — it’s for the fellowship. They will come just to visit.”
Some may hesitate to attend, Liptak says, since they assume the meal is only for the needy. Anyone can find comfort in Bowls of Love, though. People come who have lost their spouses or just seeking someone to talk to and enjoy a nice meal with others.
Spaghetti night has been a community favorite for years, Liptak said, and people look forward to it.
“It’s a very nice setting here,” she said. “And it’s always worked very well.”
Church members are involved in other efforts as well, such as collecting food items monthly for the St. Marys Food Bank, Liptak says, and cleanup in North Carolina following hurricane weather.
The Bowls of Love volunteers have a good time cooking, preparing and serving meals to others, Liptak says, and they have all made many friends doing so. The few people who come in to cook the meals will also go to lunch together.
Worship Committee Chairperson Sandy Buerk said people like Liptak don’t just cook and serve those who attend — they are completely dedicated to “treating” them with a home-cooked meal and a smiling face.
“These women have a kind heart for anybody who’s lonely or feels left out, or has any kind of need,” said Buerk. “They are the first ones to jump in and change people’s lives — anyone, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
For 24 years, the church has also been serving Christmas dinners on Christmas day, with volunteers delivering around 200 meals, and serving about 400 altogether, Liptak says. Places are closed on the holidays, and people who live alone may want a nice holiday meal in the company of others.
“They don’t want anybody to be hungry or lonely,” Buerk said. “If you’re new to the area and you don’t know anyone, you can come in and visit with somebody. They’ll feed you, they’ll serve you, and they’ll treat you with dignity.”
Liptak doesn’t see herself slowing down, she said, and hopes to help people for many Wednesdays to come, serving as many Bowls of Love as she can.
“For as long as there is a church here, I hope this never falls away,” she said.
There is always a need for volunteers to clean up and serve, and dessert donations are always appreciated, Liptak said.
For more information, call FUMC at 814-834-3016 or visit the Facebook page.