Volunteers prepare Thanksgiving dinner at St. Edward Catholic Church in November. Monthly free dinners are being served, starting Jan. 27 at St. Edward. (KEIZERTIMES file/ Eric A. Howald)

Volunteers prepare Thanksgiving dinner at St. Edward Catholic Church in November. Monthly free dinners are being served, starting Jan. 27 at St. Edward.
(KEIZERTIMES file/
Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Phil Bay, a Keizerite and one of the coordinators of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ Just Serve group, knows a good cause when he sees one.

“We’re always on the lookout for ways to give back to the community and not just our own church,” said Bay. “When we heard about the Community Dinners, I knew we would have no trouble rounding up 20 people to help out.”

The Community Dinner Bay references is a new community service project being sponsored by St. Edward Catholic Church, Marion-Polk Food Share and a growing coalition of local churches and community groups. On Jan. 27, St. Edward is opening the door of its community center and commercial kitchen to prepare a free meal for anyone who wants to attend. In February, the Latter Day of Saints will be preparing and serving.  Keizer Christian Church and Lakepoint Community Church have both committed to future dates and the Keizer Chamber of Commerce’s MAK (Men of Action in Keizer) group is penciled in for March. The dinners will be held the fourth Wednesday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m.

“We have mostly solid commitments through May,” said Bonnie Henny, business manager at St. Edward. “But it doesn’t have to be a church group, we are open to any group willing to help out.”

Group leaders will work with organizers at St. Edward to train in using the kitchen and serving meals.

“St. Edward is really throwing the doors open to us and giving us the space and leadership to make it possible,” said Bay.

Organizers will also work with representatives at Marion-Polk Food Share to plan meals ranging from chicken alfredo to corned beef and cabbage to shepherd’s pie.

Rick Guapo, president of the MPFS, said the idea is to work in tandem as Keizer community leaders take on the effort.

“We’re supporting them, but it wouldn’t be possible without Keizer people taking the lead,” Guapo said.

St. Edward parishoner Eileen Zielinski, who is also a member of the MPFS board of directors, helped plant the seed now growing at the church.

The Community Dinners will be modeled after like events in Silverton, where a similar program was started in 2008 and now serves about 400 people each time out. The hope is to draw attendees from all walks of life, from young families and seniors to the members of the homeless community.

Guapo said seeing the program in action in Silverton clarified the vision he had for MPFS as a whole.

“Making sure no one is going hungry is about being a good community and the Community Dinner helps us be a better community,” Guapo said.

Ideally, Guapo said, the dinners will break down the barriers most are naturally given to erecting between themselves and others.

“If we break bread together and start a conversation with our neighbor, we no longer think of them as someone not worthy of support. We see them as John or Sally and we get to know their story,” Guapo said.

While the dinners will be free, freewill donations will be gratefully accepted.

“There will be giving baskets on each table for those who want to give at the end of a meal. We hope it becomes self-supporting after a few months,” said Bay.

Henny said St. Edward is also donating the use of flatware and silverware to each meal to help cut down on the costs.

“The mission is bringing all facets of the community together to sit down for dinner,” Henny said.