Church offers free lunches to students
Shane Doudy and Andrew Bell look forward to having a lighter meal and a heavier wallet once a week, thanks to the free lunch offered each Tuesday to Grand Junction High School students in the basement of New Life Christian Church.
“It saves us money, and the meals are nice and home-cooked,” Doudy said Tuesday, while enjoying a bowl of savory chicken-and-noodle soup, crackers and lemonade.
The boys join a throng of other students who venture across busy Seventh Street to the church once a week for a quick and hearty lunch.
“It gives us the chance to save money, and it is a reminder to me that church is a good place,” Bell said.
The Tuesday lunch began three years ago, the result of a partnership with First Presbyterian Church. Sean Moates, youth pastor at First Presbyterian, had a vision for the program and recognized a critical need for some students to receive a healthy meal.
“Last year, one of the girls told me this was the first good meal she’d had all week,” said Brad Bierma, youth pastor of New Life Church.
The program started modestly, with just seven or eight students taking advantage the first year.
By the second year, the number of regulars grew to about 20. This year, the church serves an average of about 150 kids, Bierma said.
“We are just providing a safe place for the kids to come and have a good meal,” Bierma said, adding there is no expectation of the students, religious or otherwise.
Bierma said New Life Church is “more of a care ministry,” which places emphasis on helping people rather than recruiting new church members.
“It’s just a wonderful way to make a connection with a wide variety of students,” he said.
The buffet menu changes each week, and on any Tuesday it might include taco salad, burritos, casseroles, fresh vegetables or soups. Cookies or cakes are an added treat.
Five or six volunteers begin cooking for the students in the early morning. Bierma credits the rotating group of volunteers for really making the program successful.
Bierma estimates it costs about $1 per student for the meal. Students can make a donation for their meal but it’s not necessary, he said.
The students have about 50 minutes to walk to the church, eat, and then hustle back to class.
“It’s been fun, and what really impresses me are the attitudes and gratitude of the students,” Bierma said. “We have a lot of good teens in the valley, and we hope we’re helping them.”