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HELPERS: Newmarket church volunteers serving meals, and friendship

'I’ve had so many people say that it’s not just the food that makes them come out, it’s being able to get together and enjoy visiting other people,' says longtime St. Andrew's volunteer

A hot, home-cooked meal can go a long way.

Thankfully, that uplifting experience is available in Newmarket for anyone who wishes to enjoy one – young or old, near or far, friend or stranger.

Opening its doors wide to the community the second and fourth Thursday of each month, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church offers a tasty variety of homemade soup, sandwiches, finger foods, and more, served with love inside the historic church walls.

Organized by congregation member Heather Cromie, the lunches aren't just meals, but a way for the community to come together, mingle with friends new and old, and satiate a need for good food and conversation.

“I’ve had so many people say that it’s not just the food that makes them come out, it’s being able to get together and enjoy visiting other people,” said Heather Cromie. “We have people from all walks of life come in. Nobody’s questioned. If you want to come in and have a meal, you’re quite welcome.”

Cromie, a longtime member of the church’s congregation, has volunteered with the community lunch program since its inception in 2017. The position requires dedication – an average of 30 people attend each lunch, with food preparation starting days in advance. Four teams of five to six volunteers work hard to purchase, prepare, and set each meal, with total costs averaging around $250.

But shouldering the costs of these community meals is well worth the investment. Not only are they open to people facing food insecurity, who may not know when they will be able to eat their next meal, they also go further to help local people in need. Leftovers that aren’t taken home by lunchgoers are donated to Newmarket Food Pantry’s community fridge, a public repository of fresh, nutritious foods that anyone can take for free, at any time.

And when special fundraising lunches are held – like St. Andrew’s’ five-course Valentine’s Day dinner – proceeds go back into the community lunch program, alongside supporting other local programs like Loft-Crosslinks Housing & Support Services.

Community meals are free to the public, and purposely held on days of the month where there is less access to other free meals in the area – to best serve those in need. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. for refreshments and finger foods, with meals held at noon.

“Anyone who walks through the door is welcome,” said Cromie, who also volunteers with the church’s prayer shawl program, which see volunteers hand-knit and crochet shawls for individuals in hospitals, long-term care, and more. “There’s obviously a need out there because there’s a lot of people that wander in to have lunch. It’s nice to be able to fill that need.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or who would like more information about the community lunches can contact [email protected].

The church is located at 484 Water St., Newmarket.

“It’s very personally satisfying to me and I’m sure the other team members to see how much everyone enjoys it.” said Cromie. “I probably get as much enjoyment out of it as they do.”