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Setting the table

Willamette Christian Church offers lunch, groceries every Sunday


by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Melissa Kuenzi is in charge of the Willamette Christian Church's The Table program, which offers free lunch and groceries every Sunday.For the past five and a half years, Sundays at Willamette Christian Church in West Linn have served a dual purpose.

There are the traditional church services, of course — two in the morning and another at 5:30 p.m.

Wedged in between those times is a different kind of service, geared less toward worship and more to the community at large.

At about 12:30 p.m. each Sunday, just after the 11 a.m. service ends, a freshly prepared lunch is available for anyone at the church — no questions asked. Attendees need not be regular worshippers at the church, or even West Linn residents. They can come from any area or walk of life, so long as they bring an appetite.

Church members call it the “Table Program,” and along with a free lunch it includes a grocery handout courtesy of donations from Whole Foods.

“It has all sorts of foods,” said Melissa Kuenzi, the church’s Food Ministry Lead who heads up the program. “Everything from fresh produce to dairy and deli items. ... It’s very much up to Whole Foods’ discretion. Anything they carry could show up.”

The food is organized by type in a small room referred to as “the lounge,” right next to where the free lunch takes place. The idea is for attendees to eat a freshly prepared meal first, and then proceed to the grocery handout to take whatever else they might need for the rest of the week.

Kuenzi has been running the program since November, and estimates that an average of 70 people show up each week. When the Table originally started, there was a Friday breakfast as well, but it was scrapped when Kuenzi came on and realized the turnout wasn’t high enough to justify continuing.

Sunday’s tradition has blossomed, though, as groups of volunteers arrive each week to plan and prepare the meals.

“I’m the staff person who runs it,” Kuenzi said, “but other than that it’s volunteer-run.”

The meals are seasonal, with barbecues and cold salads dominating the summer months while chilies and casseroles fill up the winter.

“We try to keep it creative, keep it fresh,” Kuenzi said. “But we do have kind of a rotation of things people like.”

The original creators of the program have since moved on from the church, but as Outreach Director Sherri Oswald recalls, “It was just a couple of members who really had a desire to serve this way.”

And a key point, according to Oswald, is that the program aims to quell more than just hunger.

“A lot of people come because they need the company,” Oswald said. “It’s as much for the need to communicate as it is for the food for some of them.”

Many of the volunteer cooks and servers are National Honors Society students looking for community service hours. The church also partners with the juvenile corrections system to find volunteers.

“We send out requests for help, and allow people from within the community and the church to sign up,” Oswald said. “Usually the people who lead the Sunday meal service are people who attend the church.”

To volunteer, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The meals are prepared by volunteers, and the groceries come courtesy of Whole Foods.



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