If you have been for a visit to Cityteam, and if you’ve had the pleasure of talking to our chef and food coordinator, John Clifford, you’ve heard about his dream. His vision is that our cafeteria wouldn’t ever be called a “soup kitchen” even if there happens to be really great soup on the menu.
At Cityteam, we believe in helping people who have fallen on hard times. And we believe there’s a way to help people while preserving their dignity and the respect everyone prefers to be shown. So it makes perfect sense that John would want people who are hungry–some without a home, others battling addiction, some elderly and alone–he would want the men, women and children eating dinner at Cityteam to walk into something as nice as what you might pay for somewhere else.
After a ten year battle with drug addiction I was left broken, homeless and in prison. Upon my release, I came into Cityteam’s recovery program in the spring of 2007. After God delivered me from addiction, I knew the only thing left was to serve Him and love those in need. Today I have the responsibility of serving over 21,000 people, physically and spiritually, in our food programs.
Serving dinner, well that isn’t a new thing at all for us. In 1989, Cityteam Chester opened its doors with only one offering for the community–a warm, nutritious meal and a kind word for people with no place else to eat. That first meal, donated and prepared by Woodlyn Baptist Church, was symbolic of the way Cityteam has continued to serve the community decades later–volunteers and partners pooling their time and resources to serve our neighbors in need.
Now, what began as a once-weekly community meal is now a full kitchen serving three meals a day, every day of the year. With each bit of growth, we have tried to remain true to our purpose of serving the way Jesus Christ did—filled with compassion, walking humbly and giving opportunity to share hope to people in the midst of painful circumstances. And somewhere along the way, as our food donations became more steady and we found more and more amazing volunteers, we began to think of ourselves as a kind of a restaurant.
“But this doesn’t really feel like a restaurant. Not really.”
Ouch. When a good friend of ours, an honest volunteer who had been part of serving dinner at Cityteam spoke those words, John and I had to listen to her. You see, at a restaurant there are waitresses, and waiters, and people who help you find your seat. Your food isn’t plated up in advance and everyone’s plate doesn’t look exactly the same. Last year, after listening to this feedback, we realized we needed…more feedback. So we enlisted some faithful volunteers to be in a focus group to help us improve our meal program. They were honest, too. They shared the things they loved and they told us some of the frustrating parts of the meal program.
What resulted was an exciting idea. What if one night each week we turned our cafeteria into a café that actually felt like a restaurant? What if we did it in a way that gave volunteers and guests more opportunity to connect and share life experiences? What if we offered music and teaching about Jesus after dinner that was so inviting that people were excited to stay and invite others to come?
From those focus groups, Hope Café was born. Starting this weekend, our Saturday dinnertime outreach to the homeless and hungry members in our community will take new form by providing an outstanding personal dining experience, purposeful partner roles and appealing music and teaching. We are really excited and are looking for more groups to take on this project with us, almost like a mission trip right here in our neighborhood. Please help us share our vision and think about partnering with us!
Special thanks to Media Presbyterian Church and the Senior Craftsmen there who dedicated lots of volunteer hours and devoted their resources to help us spruce up the cafeteria in preparation for this project.
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