If you listened closely Tuesday evening, you may have heard the start of a monthly social event at the First Congregational Church in West Dundee.
It sounded like dishes clanging, people laughing, and vanilla ice cream being scooped onto a homemade brownie.
Whether they realized it or not, the diners sitting in the rows of tables in the church's narthex, their noise and appetites, gave promise to the church's vision of serving a monthly community dinner to Northern Fox Valley residents.
When the doors opened at 5 p.m., people of all religious denominations were lined up. For the next hour, a steady stream of patrons came in, sat down and were served.
"You have to remember, we're competing with the Cubs' game," said the Rev. Aaron James, senior pastor, an hour after the free dinner started. "We're expecting a rush of people to come in when it's over."
"If they arrived before the doors closed at 7 p.m., plenty of food was waiting for them," said Jan Kees, one of the dinner's organizers.
"We have enough chicken supreme to serve 120 people. When that's gone, we'll serve hot dogs and chips," she said.
The idea for the dinner came from a group of churches in St. Charles and Geneva that have been serving the free meals for three years. The churches take turns hosting the meals weekly.
Their guests have come to look forward to the feasts because they can eat, chat with their neighbors, and leave their troubles at the door for two hours, said Kathy Silber, a member of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in St. Charles.
"The secret is to make everybody feel special," she said. "We consider people our guests. The problem we have is people don't want to leave. They like to sit and talk."
James is hoping for the same results. His church's meals will be served on the second Tuesday of the month. They will be free, but money and food donations will be accepted.
Keep in mind, the dinners are cooked by neighbors who want to feed neighbors, he said.
"This is a cross-denomination dinner. It's a way to show support to the entire community, regardless of where people are from," he said. "Our intent is to show the love of God and the love of community."
That love and the invitation have been extended to everyone: the rich, the poor and everyone in between, including people who depend on food from food pantries in Carpentersville and Elgin along with other social service programs in the Fox Valley.
Eventually, James said, other area churches will be invited to form a partnership with the First Congregational Church and their own community dinners on different nights and different weeks.
For now, he and his congregation members are concentrating on his dinner because this monthly event did not begin overnight, nor was it easy or inexpensive to start.
Before the first meal was served, the Route 31 church's kitchen had to be upgraded to comply with Kane County Health Department and state fire regulations. That cost more than $10,000, James said.
Fortunately, donations paid for much of the work.
Then, dozens of people had to be recruited to buy, cook, and serve the food. In all, 38 volunteers were on hand to serve the first dinner. Some of them, such as church members, spent days chopping vegetables and baking.
Others, from Carpentersville Middle School, Dundee Middle School and Elgin Boy Scout Troop 2, worked for hours greeting and serving guests food and beverages.
"I'm learning from this," said volunteer server and Carpentersville Middle School student Dana Flores. "I'm learning how to help people and treat them with respect."
In the coming week, church members will catch their breath, talk about what they learned, and start next month's menu of roast pork with homemade applesauce.
No matter what the menu holds, Silber said church volunteers should plan for larger crowds because the meals will become a popular social events. There's no doubt about that.
"We started out preparing 150 meals; now, we're serving 400 people every month," she added.
For details about the dinners or to volunteer, call the First Congregational Church at (847) 426-2161.