The following story was written by editor Michelle Phillips and appeared in the Middleton-Cross Plains Times-Tribune on Oct. 31. The District has received permission to run the story on our website.
The kitchen was a flurry of activity when I walked into the kitchen at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church to volunteer at their Wednesday Community Dinner. Jill Enerson, who runs the program was delegating duties in preparation for the evening meal, a baked potato bar.
“I think the potatoes are done,” she said.
Cardell Adams opened the oven and pulled out a large pan.
“I work here because I like Jill,” he tells me as he transfers the potatoes to a roasting pan.
Jill’s twins, Addalie and Annaliese work on salads, Linda Gardner gets bread ready for the oven, while Henry Spalding sets up the dining room and Shannon Skinner-Roy prepares to take money for the $6 meal.
It’s only 4:30, but the guests are streaming in well ahead of the 5 p.m. mealtime.
“It’s like a social hour for some of them,” Jill explains.
Most of the kitchen staff has been working for Jill for years, with the exception of Anna Nickel, who began volunteering for confirmation, which us how several started out. Now they are paid employees.
Anna said, “I volunteered at Rally Sunday, and liked it,” she says.
“I liked her,” Jill replies. “I said, ‘I need someone like you.’”
Some of the workers have disabilities, and came to Jill as volunteers, either for confirmation hours or community service hours to fulfill MHS graduation requirements.
“Cardell and Henry both came from the culinary program at the school. They had sanitation experience, which was important to me,” she says.
“Sanitation is very important,” Henry agrees.
“I do a lot of job coaching,” Jill says.
The bustle of the kitchen slows once the food is put out, buffet-style.
Jill’s daughter Arianna, who is about to graduate from college scoops ice cream while I serve up apple crisp.
“I started doing this when I was 14,” she says, telling me that Jill needed help and she needed a job. “Now it’s a tradition.”
Annaliese and Addalie began helping their mom when they we eight, and have spent most of their lives in the kitchen.
Annaliese is planning to go into food service as a career. “I really like to see how the food we make makes people happy,” she explains.
Addalie says, “A lot of the same people come here each week.”
Bill and Nette Schlinsog and Helen Oostdik are some of those guests who frequent the church dinners.
“It’s a chance to meet other people than the ones you see every week at church service,” Bill says.
“I think it’s quite an idea,” says Helen. “I come when I don’t feel like cooking.”
Nette agrees, “I don’t like to cook anymore.”
The meal which began about eight years ago began as a place for people to gather for midweek ministries, Pastor Heather Hayward says.
“We wanted to create a central gathering spot for midweek ministries – it mostly centered around Confirmation when it began, but quickly grew beyond that to more of a community meal. Then we began adding adult Bible studies, kids choirs, and eventually a worship service on Wednesday nights as well. It started out quite small, but has grown into a very important gathering time for our community of faith–mostly due to Jill’s amazing skills at creating excellent meals for a wide variety of people,” Hayward explains.
Over and over throughout the evening people tell me, “Jill is great.” Jill is an amazing cook.”
Jill says she gets some of her cooking skills from her grandma, Dorothy Feddema. “She used to cook meals for the priests at St. Bernard’s and any homeless person that would come to the door,” Jill recalls.
She even attended the Wednesday night dinner twice on her birthday.
As the clean up begins the workers talk about school, their day and current events.
“I used to work for a newspaper, “ Linda tells me, as she cleans up “a long time ago.”
“I have three jobs right now,” Cardell interjects. “I hope I can open a restaurant someday.”
“Someone bring the drinks back,” Jill tells them and Arianna heads for the dining room as Henry and Shannon clean and put tables away.
“I have been coming here my whole life, and I’ve been working here two years.” Shannon tells me as I remove items from a tables.
With the work mostly done I ask Jill what she likes about working at the church? “I love the community. The first day I walked through the doors, I felt welcome. This is the first time I have felt like part of a community.”
The church service a meal most Wednesday nights May-September, from 5-6 p.m.