Above: Volunteers Terry Eshenour, Doug Neale and Ingrid Neale have all served food to the hungry for more than a decade.

Every weekday morning, a line of people forms outside the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Midtown. They are there for the lunch of soup, bread and dessert that has been provided by the Lutheran Community Food Ministry since 1982.

On Oct. 23, 2019, the food ministry celebrated a monumental milestone – its two millionth meal served to the hungry.

Mary Howle, a member of the food ministry’s board, said commitment to the meal service is strong. “It’s pretty amazing, I think, in terms of just the longevity of it,” she said.

The celebration included proclamations presented by government officials and a special lunch of fried chicken, yams, green beans and cake.

During the event, the “two millionth meal” was served to the ministry’s longest continuous guest, Calvin McQueary.

McQueary, who is blind and lives in a nearby senior living community, has been showing up for lunch almost every day since 1993, Howle said.

The food ministry was started to help meet increasing demand at the former Community Kitchen at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, now Crossroads Ministries. When it began, the average number of lunch guests was 250 to 300.

That count has dropped over time – particularly since the 2017 closure of the nearby Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter – to an average 80 to 100 today. Most of the food served is donated by grocery stores and restaurants and “rescued” by the Second Helpings Atlanta organization.

The volunteer-driven ministry relies upon financial support from Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and donations from its members, other churches and individuals. Paid staff do most of the cooking and clean up and provide security. Volunteers prepare plates and serve them.

Spiritual support and connections to resources such as the city’s Public Defender’s Office are offered. Howle and other volunteers also do a monthly greeting card ministry, providing cards, envelopes and stamps.

Howle enjoys “watching the delight” as lunch guests choose cards to send. As they talk about their choices, “You see that person as part of a family and part of a structure and not just some random person on the street,” she said.

As its daily meal count drops, the ministry has begun sharing any food its chef can’t use with residents of the nearby senior living community.

Also, since hearing about food insecurity among Georgia Tech students, the ministry has begun looking at ways to help feed students there and possibly at other local college campuses.

Learn more about the Lutheran Community Food Ministry at redeemer.org/give/volunteer.

Donna Williams Lewis

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.