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Group gathers for food, fun in Dade City

Several times a week, First Presbyterian Church of Dade City becomes an ecumenical gathering place.

"Most of our participants don't go to church here; it is really a community outreach," said the Rev. Kevin Morris, pastor of the host church. "This is filling a need in our area."

Esther Reak and Doris Harris attend Faith Baptist Church in Zephyrhills, but three times a week they drive to Dade City to have lunch and socialize at the historic sanctuary on Church Avenue. Keith and Alice DeVore are members of Richland Baptist Church, and they come to First Presbyterian twice a week to dine and visit with friends.

Springtime in the Autumn Years is a group of people ages 55 and older who have lunch, guest speakers and crafts. A few times a month they take field trips.

The cost of lunch is a donation, and most pay only $2 for a hot meal. A recent menu featured roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, biscuits and sherbet.

Roger Post, a retired executive chef, is the cook.

"I love the people," he said. "In restaurants I heard complaints, but here everyone appreciates the food, and the people make the job wonderful."

Esther Reak, 73, says she comes for the food, the programs and the laughter.

"Plus they don't try to convert us," she said. "This is so much better than sitting home, sleeping or crying."

Reak is a widow. So is her friend, Doris Harris, who is 72.

"Once a week we go on a field trip, and that keeps us out of mischief," Harris said with a twinkle in her eye. "It keeps us from feeling sorry for ourselves."

Recent trips included a visit to a butterfly farm north of Ocala, a day cruise out of Tarpon Springs and a trip to Fort DeSoto. Last week attendees scheduled a trip to the Gamble mansion in Bradenton, with lunch at an Amish restaurant.

Morris says they are trying to find money for transportation and to help sustain the program.

"The food is an integral part of the program," he said.

The program at first drew 21 people when it began in January 2001. The largest crowd has been 93. On a recent Thursday, 58 came for lunch.

"During the winter a lot of people bring their friends," said Peggy Johnson, 63, a full-time staff member at the Presbyterian church and director of the program.

Lunch is served at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in the church's fellowship hall. A program follows.

On a recent day Jennifer Seney, director of Pasco Wildlife, talked to the group about her organization, which is dedicated to pursuing the establishment of a Pasco County environmental land acquisition and management program. She told them about the Web site, which is an informational resource covering anything on the subject of wildlife habitat.

Alice DeVore said she enjoys the programs as well as the lunch.

"I bring some of my e-mail to share," she said. "The fun stuff from the grandkids."

Her husband, Keith DeVore, likes the opportunity to get out.

"I've had a lot of illness, and this gets me out of the house," he said.

Barbara and Nelson Woodward of Dade City attend the Presbyterian church where the group meets.

"I like meeting different people," she said. "And, I don't have to fix lunch."

Nelson Woodward says the food is good and reasonable.

"Plus it is another outing we can do together," he said. He and his wife will be married 60 years in August.

Monday and Tuesday after lunch the group works on crafts for a show in the fall.

Recently they made butterflies and learned how to do one-stroke painting.

Millie Jones, 74, and a member of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, says her artistic side has come to life since she met Peggy Johnson.

"She's my angel," Jones said. "She got me started on one-stroke painting, and now I can't stop. Move over, Grandma Moses."

Jones proudly showed her crystal glasses she had painted with blue flowers for the upcoming bazaar.

"They can be used as candle holders," she said.