by Joe Bollig
LEAVENWORTH — No one had ever seen the man before. He quietly showed up like many others at Elijah’s Supper.
Elijah’s Supper is a free community meal ministry of Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Parish in Leavenworth. Meals are served from 4 to 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month in Kinzsler Hall, in the basement of St. Joseph Church, the former school cafeteria.
“A [volunteer] explained to him where to get his food and she told him to stop by the table when he left so he could take a meal home with him,” said Mitzi Frietchen, the chief organizer for Elijah’s Supper.
He ate and came back to the volunteer, who gave him a meal to go.
“Are you sure I’m not taking this away from anyone else who needs it?” he said.
“No,” said the volunteer. “We have plenty of food tonight. You’re welcome to take it.”
He turned away for a moment and then turned back.
“You don’t know how much this helps me,” he said, with tears in his eyes.
No, Mitzi and the other volunteers don’t know precisely how much they are helping people with Elijah’s Supper — but they do have a general idea.
When the first Elijah’s Supper was held in February 2013, they served 104 meals. This past October, they served 608 meals — a record. In all, Elijah’s Supper ministry has served 21,627 meals since it began.
The name of the ministry comes from a story in the Old Testament.
In 1 Kings 17: 7-16, Elijah was instructed by God to be fed by a widow at Zarephath during a famine. She told the prophet that she had barely enough to make a little for herself and her son. Elijah told her to prepare him some food anyway, for “the jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.”
And they did not. Elijah, the widow and her son had something to eat day after day.
For Mitzi and her husband Jerry Frietchen, who also volunteers, the same thing happens with Elijah’s Supper. They’ve never had to turn anyone away hungry.
Two things make the meal ministry go: volunteers and donations.
A core group of about 12 people, led by Mitzi, prepares the meals. Another group of volunteers helps serve the meals and bus tables. Most, but not all, volunteers are parishioners. Some aren’t even Catholic.
Donations come in the form of food and money. Often, someone will be inspired to simply hand them money.
“We have never had to ask anyone for money since this started,” said Mitzi. “Some people give us a check every month. Others, when we go somewhere, will give us $20 or $50 and say, ‘Buy what you need for the meal.’”
“We’ve never had to ask the parish for any money,” said Jerry.
“We have farmers who’ve donated meat to us,” said Mitzi. “They’ll ask, ‘How much hamburger do you need?’ And I’ll tell them 100 pounds. And, sure enough, I get 100 pounds.”
They still have to buy produce, so they clip a lot of coupons and scout out the sales.
“God just provides,” said Mitzi Frietchen. “I’ve never had to worry about money. If we need it, it comes. It’s the same with volunteers. God just sends extra people.”
A few things have changed over the years, however. More people are sitting down and staying to eat, for example.
“Originally, most of the meals were carryouts,” said Jerry. “Now, more people are eating in.
“I think this is probably the result of an increasing comfort level. Some people were reluctant to come at first, thinking we were going to cram religion down their throats.”
Another change is that Elijah’s Supper is making more deliveries. Home deliveries are restricted to parishioners in order to keep this part of the ministry manageable.
The ministry is also serving more families, although Mitzi doesn’t know why. Maybe, during the summer, it’s because they have air conditioning. She knows that some people come simply because they’re lonely.
One of the beautiful aspects of the meal ministry is how the various churches in Leavenworth cooperate. The meal ministry began with Protestant churches, who showed Jerry and Mitzi how to run the ministry.
Through the example of Immaculate- Conception-St. Joseph, other Catholic parishes have also begun meal ministries. All the churches serve meals on different days in the month.
This cooperation will again be extended to a big, free, community Thanksgiving dinner.
“Each year at Thanksgiving, we partner with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to provide free Thanksgiving meals,” said Jerry. “This year, we estimate about 1,000 meals will be made [here].”
The sit-down and carryout meals will be served at the Lutheran church, and the delivery meals will originate from St. Joseph Church.
Last year, about 1,800 meals were made, and an additional 900 were delivered.
“Our site has what seems like a gazillion volunteers,” said Jerry.
“But somehow, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit,” he continued, “we manage to get it all done.”