HOLIDAY — Joining Hands Mission Church served its 25,000th meal Sunday, with a side order of caring and respect.
For three years, about 40 volunteers at the mission have served about 250 free breakfasts every Sunday at Metropolitan Ministries, the church's host site on U.S. 19. Some come to the Mission Café in search of friendship and fellowship, which they also derive at the worship service that follows the breakfast. Others come to enjoy what mission volunteer Judy Mattis calls "the only meal they'll have today."
"Some of the people who come here are true homeless," said Maria Brandes, a Joining Hands coordinator. "When they come here, they're treated like everyone else. They're greeted personally, they choose their breakfast from a menu, they sit at a table with linens and silverware. This is a place where everyone can feel safe and comfortable."
Although the mission has free use of Metropolitan Ministries meeting hall, Brandes estimates that the independently operated mission spends $350 a week to produce its restaurant-style breakfasts, which include Belgian waffles, omelets, pancakes, French toast and egg sandwiches, along with side orders that include bacon, eggs, cereal, milk, fresh fruit, yogurt, juice and coffee.
Among regular guests at the Mission Café are Darla and Eddie Douglas of Holiday, who bring their 9-year-old granddaughter, Alivia Douglas, every Sunday with friend Evelyn Blackston. These onetime clients of Metropolitan Ministries are now mission volunteers.
"We first came to the food pantry here when we were new to the community and needed food," said Darla Douglas. "They're so warm here. They talk to you. They really care."
Brandes says that's the whole idea behind Joining Hands, which was formed as a United Methodist mission in 2009, with the Mission Café food ministry launching three years ago. After breakfast every Sunday, Pastor Mary Ashcraft conducts a full worship service at the front of the cafe with a sermon, music, inspirational videos, and a children's service.
"This is all about family time and being together," said Vanessa Sanchez of Holiday, who brings daughters Cecilia and Rhianna and son Anthony. "It's also about teaching my children about religion and God."
Last Sunday Ashcraft presided over a second Joining Hands Mission meal, a noon celebration luncheon that honored the people behind the effort.
"We're serving people God's food," Ashcraft said, "both spiritually and physically."
Also during the luncheon, the Rev. Dan Campbell announced an upcoming expansion of the kitchen at Metropolitan Ministries, which will allow as many as 2,000 meals a day to be prepared on site and served at the church, throughout the community and at the Mission Café every Sunday.
As always, every meal will be followed by a service.
At Sunday's service, Ashcraft displayed a Bible verse on an overhead screen, one that seemed to capture the spirit of the day.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat." — Matthew 25:35