January's Community Outreach Meal for Everyone at First Lutheran Church marked the 10th year of free meals offered to the community through area churches.
The COME meals, which take place from 5-6:30 p.m. every third Tuesday of each month, are free to anyone.
The events are organized by a committee and are designed to reach out to the community, said Kathy Kittel, committee chairwoman.
Churches started serving the meals in January 2001. At that time roughly 50 people attended, Kittel said. Now, an average of 150 people show up for the food and company.
The meals are funded by donations and the participating churches, who pay $25 per month.
"Since beginning, the cost of groceries has risen greatly, however God does provide," Kittel said. "It seems that when we are getting short, a donation arrives."
The meals first started as an idea within the social concerns committee of First Lutheran Church.
"We are about uplifting people, feeding mind and soul, and we really stress that anyone will be welcomed always," Kittel said. "We are a 'meal for the community.'"
Of the 13 area churches contacted, seven -- Faith Community, First Baptist, United Methodist, IMC, Bethany Lutheran, Prairie View Covenant and First Lutheran -- agreed to participate in the monthly community gatherings.
The meals are modeled after the River Falls Community Meals, Kittel said.
"They provided start up funds and information to help us to get going," she said of River Falls. "A few years later we paid it forward and donated the same to the Baldwin-area churches so they could also provide a meal. I understand that they were paying it forward and helping Hudson get started."
The group's missions is: "The Community Outreach Meal exists to share food for body and spirit. All who gather together are welcomed by a hot meal, fellowship, unconditional love, support and respect in Christ Jesus' name."
Kittel said the meals would not be successful without the generosity of the local churches and volunteers.
"I want to give credit to First Lutheran for opening their kitchen and dining room to be utilized for this event month-after-month and all of the member churches for their unfailing commitment to COME," she said. "I also want to thank the hundreds of volunteers over the years who make this happen and Five Loaves, who has been providing the treasurer services for us."
On average, it costs $225-250 per meal to serve the community, she said. The group relies on grants and donations from individuals and churches to keep the organization up and running.
Last year the group received $500 from the Tom Doar Foundation, Kittel said.
"Whenever we are getting low, it never fails that God provides another avenue for us to keep it going," she said. "Recently we have been receiving memorial gifts. This is an excellent way to remember a loved one and give to the community."
Anyone looking to donate to the community meals can send checks to: COME, P.O. Box 222, New Richmond,WI 54017.
"I want people to know to spread the word to join us," Kittel said. "We always have enough food and would love to have them dine with us."
The next COME meal will be served on Tuesday, Feb. 15, from 5-6:30 p.m. at First Lutheran Church.