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Not your average ‘church ladies’ fueling community in Salmon Arm

First Community helps fund free lunch with catering company

They’re not your average “church ladies.”

Every Wednesday Rev. Jenny Carter trades in her clergy collar for a chef’s hat as the culinary mastermind behind the First United Church’s weekly Community Lunch as well as its Catering Crew.

She and a team of volunteers have been hosting the free lunches for the past two-and-a-half years, with attendance having increased from the original 20 or so diners to now 80 to 90 guests being fed each week.

“Food costs are high,” First Community executive manager Mary Scheidegger said, which Carter agreed is one of the reasons they’ve seen an increase in attendance at the Community Lunches.

“What I’m noticing is a lot of people that might not be un-housed, are having a home to live in but they can’t afford to eat a well-balanced diet anymore,” she pointed out. “So we’re seeing a great uptick.”

The two organizers also ensure the food served is not only delicious, but also nutritious and calorie rich so it can tide diners over throughout the day.

“Jenny truly believes, and she walks the walk, she talks the talk, and she demonstrates that when people come to Wednesday lunch, they come as guests. And if Jenny wasn’t proud to serve the food that she’s serving to these guests to guests in her own home, she won’t serve it,” Scheidegger said. “It is delicious, nutritious, presented in a loving way and it makes people leave with very full hearts and full tummies.”

Far from the inevitably stale finger sandwiches of old church potlucks, May 8’s lunch offered generous helpings of Philippine noodles, rice, soup, pork, chicken, salad, stuffed squash, buns and dessert, as well as the social interaction that’s such an integral part of the initiative.

Carter explained that it’s not just a feeding program of sandwiches that can be handed out, it’s a meal program where people sit down and eat together that is creating a sort of community.

She added that everyone is welcome, from the un-housed or precariously housed, to members of city council and other professionals, so a doctor could be sitting down with someone who slept in a tent the previous night.

When the program first started, the guests would usually just eat and leave, whereas now a lot of them come early and stay afterwards to chat.

“I think that speaks to they feel safe there, they feel welcome there, they feel loved there,” Scheidegger said, with Carter adding, “Wednesday lunch is the highlight of my week.”

They’re hoping to add another lunch day, maybe on the weekend like a Sunday dinner, but they’re working on funding to move forward with that.

Finances is one of the main reasons they also expanded into catering.

“We needed to have a way to raise funds, because one of the things we do here… is we’re trying to turn this building into a community hub, like a common space,” Carter explained, adding they to some extent subsidize some user groups that need an affordable space. “We’re trying to partly fund this building, the maintenance and upkeep… Originally we started doing that through catering, and it just sort of helped ease the budget.

“And then we got successful!”

The Catering Crew has since served thousands of meals both at First Community and off-site locations, including celebrations of life, family reunions, office parties and corporate lunches. Those paid gigs provide revenue that goes directly back into the common good and generates income so they can afford to share the space with others and make it a community resource.

“We’re trying to expand the good that we can do in this community, in the wider community,” Carter said. “So what we’re hoping to do with the catering is turn it into more of a social enterprise.”

Her vision involves having people that have barriers to employment could come work, with pay, while also learning marketable skills that could help them access other jobs. She added they’re on the cusp of that becoming a reality.

That would also address the ongoing need for help in the kitchen, as they’re always looking for volunteers for catering and the Wednesday lunches.

Carter encourages everyone to get involved, either by helping cover food costs, coming to eat with people who are neighbours, or volunteering to help cook and clean up.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Volunteering shows this in real time,” regular volunteer Vivian Hartwig said. “As for myself, the hugs, the loud good mornings always make my days not so long.”

Further information about First Community and both culinary initiatives can be found on the website at

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About the Author: Heather Black

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