Sometimes the main course is chili. Other times it’s a chicken-and-rice casserole. In the summer months, it’s likely to be freshly grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.
No matter what dish anchors the menu, however, the free meal is always served with a healthy side of hospitality, according to regular volunteers of a long-running community dinner in Victor.
“The intent of the meal is both to feed the soul and to feed the stomach,” explained Heather McAdoo.
An opportunity to serve
McAdoo founded the dinner program 17 years ago at Victor’s First Presbyterian Church, which still hosts the dinner on three Saturdays each month at the church at 70 E. Main St. All are welcome, regardless of income or religious affiliation.
“It’s a no-strings-attached meal. Come and eat,” McAdoo said. “We’re not using it as an opportunity to gain members of our church. We’re using it as an opportunity to serve our community.”
Since 2016, the church’s Catholic neighbor, St. Patrick Parish, has provided a team of volunteers to plan, cook and serve the dinner on the third Saturday of each month.
“They take care of everything. They bring the food, they bring the volunteers and provide everything that is needed for the meal,” McAdoo said.
The local Knights of Columbus council provides volunteers for the dinner program several times a year, as do several of Victor’s Girl Scout troops and school groups, while a group of Boy Scouts helped with the program’s Thanksgiving dinner last November, McAdoo said.
“My vision has always been … for it to be a community dinner, for different groups to be involved, for it to just be a place for people to come and enjoy a meal and spend time together,” she remarked.
Food and fellowship
The free dinners provide a valuable resource for people in need within the Victor community, but the social opportunities the dinner program provides are equally valuable, she said. Everyone is welcome at the dinners, regardless of economic status. The volunteers enjoy the social interaction just as much as the guests, remarked Joan Muto, who with her husband, Bob, belongs to the volunteer team from St. Patrick.
“You get to know the people that come in. We say hi and know their names. We walk around, talk to them. It’s a nice feeling,” Muto said.
Making meal plans
The Mutos are among the approximately eight to 15 parishioners who are involved with the dinner in various capacities during any one of St. Patrick’s designated weekends. The process begins with parishioner Linda Marren, who coordinates the parish team and works with McAdoo to plan menus months in advance.
“We look for a one-dish meal, like a stew, or scalloped potatoes and ham, or chicken and rice, like a casserole-type meal,” Marren explained. “People sign up to bring the main meal, and we have other people sign up to bring rolls, bags of tossed salads, different desserts.”
Copies of the chosen recipes are placed alongside sign-up sheets on a desk inside St. Patrick Church. Volunteers take the recipes, make the food at home on their assigned days, and drop it off at the First Presbyterian Church before the dinner begins at 5 p.m. Meanwhile, more volunteers arrive at the Presbyterian church at 4 p.m. to set up and then serve the food, Muto said.
The number of dinner guests each week varies depending on the weather, the season and the week’s recipe, McAdoo said. Some elderly guests don’t like to drive in the dark, so attendance during the winter months may be sparce. More than 50 guests sometimes attend dinners in the summer months, when a grill it set up outside to cook burgers and hot dogs, Muto added. Take-out meals are always available as well.
“People know they can come there and get a good meal,” she said.