By Carla Bumstead
Back in January, the First Baptist Church in Charlotte received a donation from a parishioner’s estate. But church leaders weren’t exactly sure what to do with some of the money.
“We wanted to give back to the community, but we really didn’t have any idea as to exactly how,” said Lisa Lupini, who sits on the church board. “So we decided to wait and pray about it.”
But when COVID-19 (coronavirus) arrived, and parishioners realized the effect it would have on the community, they knew exactly what the Lord wanted.
“God knew what he was doing, as far as having us wait, and when it was time, we were ready,” Lupini said.
On March 25, the church started paying for 50 dinners, three times a week, for area families in need.
Lupini explained that, although local school districts were supplying children with breakfast and lunch, they realized many families would still be struggling due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 restrictions.
“We knew that some families would need other resources to be able to put dinner on the table,” Lupini said. “We also wanted to be able to help local restaurants that are also struggling right now.”
Church members reached out to several Charlotte-area restaurants, offering to pay for 50 “family dinners” — enough to feed four to five people. Lupina said they heard back from several — including Riedy’s Pizza, My Place Diner, Sidestreets Deli, Eaton Place, Swampers and MOO-ville in Nashville. The church offered their first round of meals on March 25, when they partnered with Riedy’s for a spaghetti dinner (shown below).
Deb Heinze, owner of My Place Diner, said she signed up so she could “give back.”
“I decided to take part because the community has been so great to me, and it was my turn to give some of that back,” Heinze said. “I want to thank the church for doing this and helping when they can.”
First Baptist is providing meal vouchers for 50 families three times a week — with meals available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Families wishing to receive the vouchers need to come to the church, located at 1110 Cochran Ave. in Charlotte, at 5 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is all done on a drive-through basis, with those wishing to receive vouchers lining up in the church parking lot. The meals themselves are distributed at the meal-providing restaurant. Families drive to the restaurant and exchange their vouchers for the meals. No meals are being provided at the church.
Unused vouchers have been donated to various groups — including Eaton County 911 dispatchers, Sparrow Eaton Hospital workers and Eaton Community Palliative Care.
The church, with help from My Place Diner, recently provided dinner to nightshift workers at Sparrow Eaton Hospital. Shown here (r. to l.) are Kalli Dempsey from Sparrow Eaton Hospital, Lisa Lupini from First Baptist Church and Sara Caldwell from My Place.
Sally Seifert, who also serves on the church board, said she considers the effort to be about “putting our faith into action.”
“The Lord says that when people are hungry, feed them,” Seifert said. “We’ve had tremendous support from our congregation.”
As of Friday, April 3, organizers had restaurants lined up to provide meals up through Friday, April 17, with the exception of Good Friday, April 10. They were still looking for a restaurant to sign up for that date.
Lupini said the church is planning on continuing to provide the meal vouchers through April 29. For more information on the program, email the church at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Main photo by Cindy Gaedert-Gearhart/TCJ) Sidestreets Deli staff (at right) are shown ready to hand out meals to voucher holders on April 1. First Baptist Church parishioners Sally and Randy Seifert are shown at left.