First Congregational Church of Dundee is hoping to be a light in the dark for community members in need of a warm, home-cooked meal.
Once a month starting in October, free, restaurant-style dinners will be offered at the church, 900 S. 8th St., West Dundee.
Jan Kees, a leader of the initiative and a longtime member of the church, said these Hilltop Community Suppers are not limited to the church's congregation. FCC is inviting veterans, active duty military families, food pantry patrons, homeless individuals, single parents and any other community member who wants a free meal and a social experience, she said.
"We really want people to come in and have a social event," Kees said. "It's not anything like a soup kitchen. You come in, sit down, talk with your friends and enjoy."
Every dinner will offer a salad, a main course, a dessert and drinks, Kees said. They will be served from 5 to 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month in the narthex of the church, which can hold about 130 people, she said.
"We believe that churches are at their best when they're engaged with the surrounding community," said Senior Pastor Aaron James. "This is a way of loving God and loving our neighbors, which is the most important thing to us here. We hope it will bring people together."
To help fund the initiative, the church is holding a benefit at 5 p.m. Sept. 12, which will include a spaghetti dinner and a silent auction. Tickets are $7.50 each and can be purchased at the door or ahead of time.
"We're hoping we have a really good turnout," Kees said. "We're starting from total scratch. It's going to be expensive for us to get started."
Voluntary donations will also be accepted at each supper, and additional contributions are being accepted any time.
The suppers will be entirely run by volunteers, Kees said. More than 60 members of the church have signed up to cook, clean, serve and advertise, she said. Students in Dundee Middle School's Beta Club have also volunteered to wait tables.
Several churches in the southern Fox Valley host community suppers of their own, Kees said, including St. Mark's Lutheran Church in St. Charles, whose members have been acting as mentors for FCC.
Starting community suppers in the Dundee area -- the first church to do so in the northern Fox Valley -- will hopefully spark other nearby churches to mirror the efforts, James said.
"Like most really good things, if it were really easy, everybody would be doing it," he said. "The fact is, it takes work to create this kind of hospitality. It takes work to break down walls and bring people together. We're kind of taking the plunge and hope that it makes enough of a difference that people want to join us."