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Hayward church marking 20 years of weekly community dinners

Every Wednesday for the past 20 years, First Lutheran Church in Hayward has made sure that dinner is served, with a spot at the table for anyone in need.

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Matt, Angie and Seth Beckman help prepare a Wednesday dinner at First Lutheran Church in Hayward. (Photo courtesy of Sherry Beckman)

Every Wednesday for the past 20 years, First Lutheran Church in Hayward has made sure that dinner is served, with a spot at the table for anyone in need.

This Wednesday that milestone will be honored with dinner being served at 5 p.m. - just as it has been for more than 1,000 Wednesdays.

Sherry Beckman, executive director of the Hayward Lakes Visitor and Convention Bureau and a volunteer at the church, said 80 to 100 people are served each week.

"We are a small town," she said. "We don't have any other services with a pre-made hot meal."

The meals are free and open to the public. Free-will donations are accepted.

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The meals have been held without fail from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday every week - even on holidays.

"A couple years ago Christmas was on a Wednesday," Beckman said. "So the meal was made pick-up ready."

Sharron Probyn, who served on the Church in Society committee when the dinners began 20 years ago, explained that at the time the church and its members were looking for another way to help their community.

"We were very socially active - we were all younger," she recalled.

Having started the local Hayward food shelf and the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity - with both programs eventually moving into a wider community model - the church also sponsored refugee families from Vietnam, and Probyn said they were "thinking of something else" that the church could do.

"It happened during Lent," she said. "We all went home and prayed and we were already serving soup and sandwiches to church members following Lent services. So why not just make a meal?"

She said those early days were a struggle making sure each week was staffed with volunteers and had a meal plan, but eventually more community members joined the effort.

The transition of the various programs from being strictly church-run to being community-wide endeavors is "how it should be," Probyn said.

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The meals are run by both church volunteers and people and groups from the wider community - the Hayward Lions Club will handle nine meals, and the staff from Peoples Bank Midwest will take the month of April. Other churches lend a hand, too - St. Joseph's Catholic Church and Hayward United Methodist Church in particular are some of those who help, Beckman said.

Ingredients for the meal are provided by that week's volunteers.

Local markets often will donate desserts to be taken home by dinner guests, Beckman said. To-go boxes are provided for those with family members who may be homebound.

"The crowd depends on what is going on at church," she said. "But it's mostly families - a lot of kids."

Beckman said meals range from the comfort of a tater tot hotdish, to pizza donated by local pizzerias. Dinner usually comes with a vegetable, fruit and roll as well. Milk is always popular.

This Wednesday's dinner will be a bit different. It's being catered by Lynn's Customs Meats and Catering of Hayward, and the menu will feature baked chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and a roll. There also will be cake from Gordy's Market in Hayward.

What won't change is when dinner will be served - that will be at 5 p.m., just as it has been every Wednesday for two decades.

Looking back on what she helped start 20 years ago, Probyn said it makes her feel good - and she's glad that they were able to provide the service for the community.

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"Those who come have become friends," she said. "I go, too. It is a time for fellowship. It is for all of us."

If you go

First Lutheran Church is located at 10680 Main St. in Hayward.

Dinner is served from 5-6 p.m. every Wednesday. For information, call (715) 634-2141 or go to www.firstlutheranhaywardwi.org .

Related Topics: SAWYER COUNTY
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