Shepherd's Table offers food, companionship to those in need
Living off of Social Security and disability is a challenge for Helen Aiken, of Maggie Valley.
The senior has some health problems, is on oxygen and is often called upon to help care for her great grandchildren, which can make an already tight budget even harder to stretch.
“It doesn’t go far. By the time I pay my rent and stuff, I’m broke,” she said.
However, every Monday night, Aiken at least has the assurance that she will be able to sit down and enjoy a hot meal with her family with no worries. That’s because Maggie Valley United Methodist Church offers dinner to anyone in need of a meal or fellowship every Monday evening from 5:30 to 7 p.m. through a ministry called The Shepherd’s Table.
“We thank God for it because we really enjoy coming here,” Aiken said. “I’m really thankful for it.”
The ministry was the brainchild of church member Judi Ferris, who volunteers frequently for The Open Door soup kitchen in Waynesville. While she said she loves working there to serve people in need, she realized that there was nothing similar offered in Maggie Valley.
“I loved doing that, but it kept nagging at me,” she said.
Ferris turned to her church, asking for support and help establishing a free once-a-week meal to be offered at the church’s fellowship hall and kitchen. The board immediately approved her request and since 2011, The Shepherd’s Table has been doing just that.
“We take care of families,” Ferris said.
The ministry has grown to serve about 40 to 50 people at the Monday sit-down dinner and another 20 homebound people, who have a hot meal delivered to them. Each meal consists of a main course and several sides, made by volunteers in the afternoon and a dessert, made every week by church members.
But the food isn’t the only reason people show up at The Shepherd’s Table.
“People come for the fellowship, too,” Ferris said, noting that each table was filled with families and friends talking and enjoying their time together.
“We say it’s for a meal and fellowship, and some come just for the company,” said Erma Bond, the associate pastor at Maggie Valley UMC.
Each meal starts out with any prayer requests, and there are usually several people who ask for prayers for themselves or family and friends who are going through a tough time. Once the meal begins, volunteers circulate through the tables, serving the meals, talking to guests and sometimes, just providing a listening ear.
“It’s kind of like a family. It’s kind of a good feeling,” Bond said.
The church also has a food pantry and has a hard time keeping it stocked these days because there are so many families having trouble making ends meet. The weekly meal is just one more way to help out those in need, Bond said.
“We felt this was a way we could reach out in the community and really help a lot of people,” she said. “We feel this is one meal they don’t have to buy, and it’s a big help.”
Carolyn Garrand works as the main cook for the meals, usually arriving at the church in the early afternoon to start cooking. By 2 p.m., Ferris and several other volunteers show up to help plate, serve and wash dishes.
“We have a fun time. It’s hard work, fast and furious, but we have a good time,” Garrand said after the rush to finish the meal for a crowd of about 50 people last week.
The menu? Bowtie Alfredo pasta with carrot salad and garlic bread and strawberry shortcake for dessert. It’s a lot of work to get such a meal on the table for so many, but it’s definitely worth it, she said.
“When you see all the families out there and see them eating and (offering) companionship, it’s great to see,” Garrand said.
“They definitely appreciate it,” Ferris said.
For information or to help fix a dessert, cook or serve the meal, contact Ferris at 734-0156.