Neighbor’s Table~ Displaying the love of Christ through service

Story by Tanner Ott

“You know, it’s just like the song, ‘Open the eyes of my heart Lord.’ If you open your heart, you can see what you can do for others.” Dodie Lamb-Roberts summarized the heartfelt meal put on by the gracious volunteers at All Saints Episcopal Church in one touching sentence. Dodie is just one of many loving faces encountered when entering the church on a Saturday.

The idea for this meal began on March 31, 2012 with the effort of a few families who felt the need to provide a meal for hungry River Valley residents . It turned into a weekly event and All Saints Episcopal Church soon formed a partnership with New Prospect Baptist Church, First Christian Disciples of Christ and Central Presbyterian Church to create and serve the meal. It’s known as Neighbors Table. The doors open each Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and lunch is served from noon to 1 p.m. Volunteers prepare for roughly 50 people each week, though the number of those served can vary from 25- 75 people.

The first sight view upon entering the church on a Saturday is the lively smile of Lillian Tweed, Dodie’s mother. Lillian, who describes herself as the “nametag lady,” issues a nametag to each person as they enter the church. “It makes it a lot easier to start a conversation with someone when you know their name. I do this so when you sit down, you’ll already know who they are,” she said. Lillian helps teach preschool children at the church.

The first thing noticed in the kitchen is he pleasing aroma of food along with the friendly smiles of those hard at work. Among those smiling are Susan Price, Larry Kagebein and Rebecca Kagebein.

Larry serves as a sort of sous chef. He has been helping assemble meals for about one year. “It makes me feel good to help out with this,” Larry said. “We just want to provide them with a good meal and make sure when they leave here that they are full.”

Rebecca, Larry’s wife, acts as the head chef of Neighbors Table. Kagebein uses her extensive talents and ingenuity to combine an array of ingredients into tasty combinations, giving the diners a satisfying meal each week. “It takes around five hours each week to prepare the meal, and it takes a lot of teamwork,” Rebecca said. “I really appreciate the opportunity to be a chef and see the people enjoy the food we make.”

Rebecca uses an assortment of vegetables from the gardens along with any other donated ingredients to create a meal worthy of restaurant status. For example, the bell peppers and onions harvested will be mixed into the potatoes to create a delicious dish of roasted potatoes.

Each item on the menu was either donated or grown in the garden at the church, volunteer’s gardens or a member of the Russellville Community Market. “This helps create a connection with our local farmers,” said Suzanne Hodges. “The people involved with Russellville Community Market donate two percent of their harvest to Neighbors Table.”

East of the parking lot at All Saints Episcopal Church sits the Live and Learn Community Garden, where many of the vegetables for Neighbor’s Table come from. Experienced farm hands work in the dirt, but many children do as well.

Today, Suzanne is escorting a few members of the All Saints youth group to harvest bell peppers and sweet potatoes from the children’s garden. That’s right; the children at All Saints have their very own garden among the rest.

Hodges and the children dig up several sweet potatoes as excited shouts about the size of each one come from the greenery. “It’s wonderful to have the kids involved in our garden,” Hodges said. “It gives them an opportunity to learn how to serve others.”

Meanwhile, Tracy Cole approaches the kids having come out for a break from the kitchen. Tracy smiles as she watches the children dig with ferocity. “We started the children’s garden in May,” Tracy said. “We have grown okra, peas, tomatoes, green peppers, herbs, flowers, eggplant, cucumbers and other things.”

Among those digging in the garden is a child who possesses a true servant’s heart, and that is Tracy’s daughter, Eva Cole. “Seeing my daughter get into helping and serving has been wonderful. She has even made her own garden at our home and has grown and donated squash to Neighbors Table,” Tracy said.

Eva, a student at Pottsville, grins from ear to ear as she emerges from the plants with a large green pepper in hand. “My favorite thing to grow in this garden is the green peppers,” Eva said. “I also liked growing the squash in my garden at home.”

Back in the church, three sacks brimming full of squash sit on the kitchen counter. The bounty of squash is impressive, but the intoxicating smell of fresh-baked brownies quickly grabs all the attention. Whose decadent chocolate brownies might these be? They are Eva’s of course, a recipe she came up with on her own.

“These brownies are a big hit each time Eva makes them,” Hodges says. It doesn’t take long to see why. The warm chocolate goodness melts in your mouth .

The time comes for the meal to be served as roughly 50 people – plus one writer — are seated in the dining room. The main course of spaghetti squash is complemented by roasted potatoes with bell peppers and onions, fried chicken patties, pumpkin pie, Eva’s brownies, bananas, apples and oranges.

The spaghetti squash topped with rich tomato sauce was succulent, while the chicken was spicy and quite savory. The roasted potatoes blended nicely with the rest of the dinner, loaded with flavor from the peppers and onions.

During the course of the lunch, Dodie gave details of her childhood as a part of a big family. It was during this time of her life that it was imprinted into her heart to serve. “I grew up in a big family. We took other members of our family in, and my mom taught us how to serve. I guess it’s in my gene pool,” Dodie said. “My mom always taught us that if something is wrong in your life, then go help others. I have been really lucky.”

Dodie added that Neighbors Table has served as an outlet in which to plug her servant’s heart. “This truly is a beautiful ministry. I get to know people and make really good friends,” Dodie said. “My greatest joy is serving others.” Dodie, along with the other volunteers at Neighbors Table, have had their hearts opened and display true love to the community through service.

 

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