Maybe there is such thing as a free lunch.
Every Tuesday at noon, a diverse crowd gathers inside Darien United Methodist Church’s fellowship hall, which has been transformed for the day into “Charlie’s Place.” The crowd varies, but often includes a mom with her four homeschooled children, an elderly woman, a McIntosh County judge, a local magistrate officer, a young couple and an Episcopal priest. They’ve all come to Charlie’s Place for the same thing – good food and fellowship.
Begun on Tuesday, June 29, 2010, Charlie’s Place is the brainchild of Darien UMC members Jane Thompson and Julie Minors. Started as a way to honor the life and ministry of Minors’ late husband Charlie, Charlie’s Place offers guests a free lunch every Tuesday. Need is not a criteria; anyone who shows up is served a hot, homemade meal.
Charlie Minors, a “child of the Depression” who died on April 5, had a passion for feeding people. Charlie’s Place honors that passion by feeding almost 80 people a week.
“Throughout his life … he just would want to feed people whether they wanted to eat or not,” Minors said. “He would want to get the check, he would want to feed his children, and he wanted to take people out in restaurants. He just enjoyed cooking for people and feeding them.”
When the Minors moved to Darien four years ago, the only church suppers Darien UMC served were during Lent. Accustomed to the food and fellowship their former church’s weekly suppers provided, Charlie Minors decided that his ministry at his new church would be in the kitchen, so he organized, planned and recruited volunteers for monthly suppers.
It was in Charlie’s memory and honor, and to live out Matthew 25, that Charlie’s Place was started.
“It was a big deal for both of us that if people need something, you do what you can to help them,” Minors said.
Their first Tuesday they cooked 40 hotdogs and quickly ran out.
Minors estimates that, since June, nearly 1,500 meals have been served. An average of 80 meals are dished out per week.
People are being fed - those who are served as well as those who are serving – physically and spiritually.
“It always gives you a good feeling to do something,” said Darien UMC member and Charlie’s Place volunteer Janice Andrews. “I’ve never been one to be a leader, but this is something that I can do. It’s been just a blessing to be a part of it.”
That wanting to “do something” was important for Minors as she grieved the loss of her husband. The idea of Charlie’s Place was perfect, she said, and a huge coping tool for her grief.
“Since my husband died,” she said, “There have been horrible, horrible moments. Tuesdays aren’t just the highlight of my week, but the highlight of my life! It’s really given me a sense of purpose. It’s very satisfying; it’s fun and I look forward to it.”
The diversity of the guests has surprised some, including Minors. Racial, socio-economic, need and age lines are blurred at Charlie’s Place. Unlike some food ministries, need is not required to have been established for someone to receive food.
“The people that have come to visit with us to be our guests pretty much have come from a wide variety of ethnic and economic groups,” said Darien UMC pastor Rev. Robert McDaniel. “And when it says free lunch, it means a free lunch.”
Quick to point out that that Charlie’s Place is a ministry at Darien UMC more than a ministry of the church, Rev. McDaniel said that it is a privately funded ministry that receives no monetary support from the church. Many volunteers are church members, but some, like Texans Ed and Danna Whorton who are traveling and spending the month in Darien, learned of the ministry and wanted to help.
Darien resident Evelyn Greer is a Charlie’s Place regular.
“I heard so much talk about it,” she said, “and about how good the food is and about how kind people are. I’ve been here to a service and for several funerals, and people always acted so nice and kind, so I didn’t hesitate to come.”
That welcoming spirit is part of the nature of the church, said Rev. McDaniel.
“The choir might hit an off note and the preacher will most likely bore you,” he quipped, “but we want you to feel welcome.”
With no agenda but to feed people, Charlie’s Place strives to make everyone feel comfortable.
“Someone said that we need to have a mission statement, and we have one – free lunch,” Minors said. “I think that there’s no hidden agenda other than hospitality, and I hope that that contributes to a comfort level.”
Greer says the food is healthy and delicious, but it’s the warm spirit that keeps her coming back.
“This is a very, very special thing,” she said. “It is very, very neat and I look forward to coming. I feel right at home.”
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
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