Feeding Seymour provides free hot meals daily during pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic in the past month, the number of people receiving food at three local meal sites doubled.

With more people facing financial hardships, they relied on Double Down Outreach, Community Diner of Seymour and The Alley for a hot meal. The Alley serves meals weekdays, while the other two sites are set up once a week. On the weekends, no meals are available.

Now, though, those three entities have partnered with Immanuel Lutheran Church, Central Christian Church, St. Ambrose Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church and Knights of Columbus Council 1252 in cooperation with the city of Seymour to provide hot meals from 5 to 6 p.m. seven days a week for at least 10 weeks.

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Through the Feeding Seymour initiative, meals are being distributed in the parking lot of Waymaker Ministries Inc.’s resource center being constructed at 326 Dupont Drive on the east side of Seymour.

The effort started Thursday, and the number of meals served went from 75 on the second night to 178 on the sixth night.

“What we have found is that Seymour is a very loving community, and when the need is put out there, people rise to the occasion,” Karen Browning, executive director of Waymaker Ministries Inc., said of the initiative quickly coming together. “We are just blessed to be able to facilitate that.”

John Cord, a deacon at St. Ambrose and a Waymaker Ministries board member, is the coordinator for Feeding Seymour. He initially hatched the idea to Lucy Dembek with Community Diner and Sara Bowling with The Alley, and they also talked to the Rev. Jeremy Myers, lead pastor of First Baptist Church, where The Alley serves its meals.

Myers thought there was so much demand on the west side of the city that there needed to be a daily meal site on the east side.

Cord then talked to Paul Ramsey with the Jackson County Health Department to ensure they met the guidelines to prepare and serve food.

Next, he shared the idea with churches that have certified kitchens.

“Every one of them was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got to figure out a way to do this,’” Cord said. “This is expensive, so they had to figure out where to get the funding, especially right now because all churches, their collections are down. In most cases, it took them a week or two, but they came back to us and said, ‘Yeah, we’ve figured out how to get the money and move some stuff around and sign us up.’”

Finally, a distribution site had to be determined.

“It just hit us square in the head, ‘We’ve got this facility right here,’” Cord said of the resource center. “This is the perfect place. We want to get people used to coming here anyway, so that’s why we chose this.”

Waymaker Ministries, which has Double Down Outreach as one of its branches, and Community Diner are taking care of the meal on separate days, while churches and the Knights of Columbus fill the other days.

“We have vendors that we’re working with to cater so that if the church does not have a kitchen, we are able to purchase the food at a negotiated rate for this service,” Browning said.

First Presbyterian Church stepped up to take the first three Fridays, but another church is needed to cover the other seven, Browning said. Each church is asked to provide at least four servers to help distribute food.

The Knights of Columbus also helped by securing use of the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Indianapolis Disaster Response Trailer to transport the meals to the site. The trailer also is stocked with face masks that were donated for volunteers to wear.

The other volunteers at the meal site are trained navigators to assist Jackson County residents with additional needs, including rent, groceries, medicine, health insurance and more.

“We’re working in conjunction with Jackson County United Way’s Charity Tracker, so we’re doing referrals to other agencies that we work closely with to ensure that the needs are met,” Browning said. “We’re asking everybody to be patient with us. It has taken us about 48 hours to turn around on those referrals, we’re so deep in them.”

Those in need of food or assistance, regardless of income or housing, are invited to the site. Park on the street and line up according to social distancing with one member of the household approaching the service table in order to get food.

Waymaker board member Joe Doyle said on the first night of serving, he only knew about 10 people because they had visited the Double Down Outreach site on Wednesdays. The others were newcomers.

“We’re seeing more blue collar, middle class individuals, and we want to see them because they don’t realize what they can be tapping into,” Browning said.

“Some of our food pantries in Jackson County have lifted restrictions, so we want to make sure that they are aware of the resources that they can use,” she said. “Most of our team has in some way, shape or form been there, done that, so this kind of impact, we understand. We want to make sure that people that normally wouldn’t come out to us for help know that it’s a safe environment.”

Browning stressed the site is not replacing the meals served from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday by The Alley at First Baptist Church. The purpose of Feeding Seymour is to provide people on the central and east sides of town better access to a hot meal on a daily basis.

As more people find out about Feeding Seymour, Browning expects the number served to continue to rise.

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What: Feeding Seymour free hot meal site

When: 5 to 6 p.m. daily for 10 weeks

Where: Parking lot of Waymaker Ministries Inc.’s resource center being constructed at 326 Dupont Drive, Seymour

Who: Open to any Jackson County resident in need of a meal or other assistance; no questions asked and no income or housing requirements to receive the meal

Get involved: If you would like to sponsor the cost of a meal and/or volunteer to serve, email John Cord at [email protected]; Spanish-speaking volunteers are needed, too

Donate: Make a tax-deductible donation by sending a check to Waymaker, P.O. Box 189, Seymour, IN 47274 with Feeding Seymour in the memo or go online to paypal.me/waymaker2019 or Venmo under Waymaker-Ministries; for every $3 donated, a meal is provided to someone in need

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Community Diner of Seymour is taking care of the Feeding Seymour meals on Mondays.

Meals will be handed out from 5 to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of Econolodge and Allstate Inn on the far east side of Seymour. Monday’s meal consists of roast pork, corn casserole and dessert.

Patrons who walk or bicycle to First United Methodist Church, which is the normal host site of Community Diner, can still pick up meals at the church from 4 to 4:30 p.m. Those who typically drive to the church are asked to pick up meals at the new locations.

The new locations are temporary through the middle of June. Then it will return to the church’s fellowship hall. As with all things, the timeline is subject to change.

Anyone interested in helping feed the hungry can email [email protected] or stop by Monday during the meal to learn about Community Diner.