After shoving a chip smothered in cheese and taco meat into her mouth, Taylor Dozois smiled. Being polite, she chewed for a while and then explained with great enthusiasm why she enjoys Meals of Hope.
"It's fun and the meals are great," said Dozois before shoving another chip into her mouth.
A fourth grader at Rosemount Elementary School, Dozois regularly attends Meals of Hope, a weekly free meal provided by Community of Hope Lutheran Church. She has even recruited several of her friends to attend the Tuesday evening meals with her. One friend, Breanna Myer, said she likes the food and seeing all the people.
"The only thing I don't like about it is leaving," she added.
Dozois and Myer were just two of about 25 kids who attended the meal on Oct. 13. Some of the kids bring their parents. Most don't.
The church started sponsoring the free weekly meals in June as a way to help people going through tough times, said Dave Olson.
Olson, the worship director at the church, said he had thought about starting some sort of community meal for a number of years. While working at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Lakeville he helped start a similar program and thought it would be valuable in Rosemount as well.
With the economic downturn affecting a lot of area families, Olson said he felt the time was right and started the wheels rolling. Quite a few members of the congregation signed on and the project took on a life of its own. Each week 10 to 12 people from the church volunteer to help set up, serve and clean up the meals.
To help people get to the church for the meals Community of Hope provides transportation. The church runs a van to the Rosemount Family Resource Center, where it picks up people. The van makes several runs to the center to make sure everyone who wants to eat has the opportunity.
Tables are set up in the Community of Hope Commons Area, which is connected to the kitchen so it's easy to serve people, said Olson. The church provides nutritious meals including fresh fruit each week. A dessert is served as well.
On Oct. 13 the church offered chips, cheese, taco meat, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes and fresh apple slices. While the kids seemed to enjoy the whole meal the apple slices were the big hit of the night.
"These apples are really good," said Shaleigh Jackson as she went to get seconds.
While it wasn't intended to be a children's event, a majority of the people who attend each week are kids. So volunteers that help run the event have modified it to make it more kid friendly. Volunteers plan a lesson and activity for the kids for after the meal each week.
On Oct. 13 Olson set up an obstacle course that included shooting a basket, crawling through a hoop and shooting a sling shot. Along with the course he also gave a brief lesson about the obstacles overcome by David when he faced Goliath.
"It's turned out to be more of a kid thing and we've changed our focus from the beginning to reflect that," said Zandy, who regularly volunteers on Tuesdays. Zandy and the other volunteers asked that their last names not be used in the story.
In addition to a good meal Kristen, a volunteer, said the program is a good way to connect with people in the community. She said it's been fun to get to know the kids who come each week.
"I feel like a mentor to some of the kids," said Kristen.
When done serving food, the volunteers sit and enjoy the meal with the attendees. That gives the volunteers a chance to get to know the people who come.
"I really encourage the whole team to eat and enjoy each other's company," said Olson.
So far the food for all the meals has been donated. Olson said the congregation has stepped up and supported the meals with their time and donations. The church also has received some outside donations.
"The beautiful thing is that it hasn't cost Community of Hope a thing," said Olson.
Although the weekly meals have drawn mostly children and their parents anyone can attend free of charge. Olson said they will keep Meals of Hope going as long as there is a need and volunteers to help. Meals are served from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday.
For more information about the weekly meals e-mail Dave Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-592-4392 with any questions.