Yes Free Lunch

Department: 

Members of Moab Monthly Meeting have been working with our neighbors for several years now to find solutions to a pair of related issues in Moab, Utah: that large amounts of food are wasted in our community and that some of us do not have enough to eat. These issues challenge our testimonies of simplicity, equality, and community, and we have tried in various ways over the years to find creative solutions in our diverse community.

One of our earliest efforts, started a few years ago by a young couple who attended Moab Meeting for a short while, was a noon meal of soup for anyone who wanted it. The couple collected donated ingredients, prepared the soup themselves, and served it from several locations. They had to keep changing location because of city ordinances and because property owners kept asking them to move. Eventually this couple found they could no longer continue the work. One of their helpers took over.

The new organizer of Moab’s daily lunch had a different idea. His main concern was with all the prepared food that was thrown away on a daily basis in Moab. Our city’s school lunch program and our many restaurants created most of this waste. After meeting with the new organizer of the daily lunch project, four schools in our community readily agreed to put all extra food in five-gallon buckets instead of throwing it away, and several other food outlets agreed to do the same. This was the beginning of the Free Meal program in our community, which provided lunches to scores of people everyday for almost two years.

The city agreed to let the meal take place near their offices in the town center, on a city property called The Sun Court. Everyone was invited to the Free Meal. Of course, our homeless population used this program a lot, as did many of our elderly, including one of our meeting’s members. But all sorts of people took advantage of the meal, and one of our members often helped with it. Another of our members runs an organic farm with interns, and they would often plan their workload to break for lunch for the Free Meal. People passing through town would join in, as would local community members on their lunch breaks. Between 30 and 40 people were served each day.

The food for the Free Meal was stored in several refrigerators at the main organizer’s home. The program got all sorts of donations – mashed potatoes, fried chicken, pizza, burritos, etc. This food was either served as it was received, or sometimes it was combined into other dishes. Crockpots were used to heat the food, transport the food, and serve it. Dishes, utensils, and tables were transported to The Sun Court along with the crockpots full of lunch. While the meal was being eaten, the next day’s food was being picked up from various sources and taken to the refrigerators. Then everything was picked up after lunch, taken back to the organizer’s home, and cleaned. This was managed mostly by just a few people, so the program could not sustain itself, and eventually it ended. But while it was in operation, the Free Meal was a wonderful example of dealing with wasted food while addressing urgent food needs in our community. Even more, the program tried to make everyone feel a part of our community by giving everyone an opportunity to interact with people they would not usually meet.

Other efforts to provide needed meals and bring the whole community together include winter brunches, sponsored by the Youth Garden Project, and holiday dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas, sponsored by another local nonprofit, Wabi Sabi. Everyone in the community is welcome at these meals, and for a couple of our members, the Wabi Sabi dinner has become their traditional way to celebrate Thanksgiving.

For the last two years, one of our local churches has been providing a Community Meal on Sunday afternoons, open to the public. Our Meeting has made regular donations of food and money to support this endeavor. A variety of churches and individuals have now become involved, so this program is not just falling on a few people in one small church to sustain it.

Moab has not found an ongoing solution to wasted food, and still struggles in trying to meet the food needs of all our citizens. Even so, it is heartening to see many of our nonprofits and other organizations continuing to address the issues of simplicity and equality, and it is especially heartening to see the residents of Moab trying to find new ways to create community. ~~~

This article was written collaboratively by several members of Moab Monthly Meeting, Moab, Utah.

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