Salsa, tortilla chips, cheese enchiladas and beef tacos may not sound like ingredients needed to strengthen community ties, but they went the distance on Tuesday at the First Congregational Church's Hilltop Community Supper.
When volunteers of the West Dundee church presented the fare to neighbors and police officers who serve and protect their homes, they were not only saluting the officers, but welcoming them to the dinner table.
Since September, the Route 31 church has hosted a free dinner for the Dundee Township community. This month, volunteers made sure officers from the East and West Dundee, Carpentersville, Sleepy Hollow and Gilberts police departments were breaking bread with them.
The officers are always welcome, but this month they received handwritten invitations to acknowledge the work, sometimes dangerous, they do, said dinner coordinator Jan Keeys.
"(The week of May 15) is National Police Week. National Peace Officers Memorial Day is May 15," Keeys said. "Police officers are such an important part of any community. Our Hilltop Community Suppers are open to everyone in the community. We wanted to make sure those officers know they are welcome to attend and we appreciate them."
When Keeys and her 45 volunteers served the food on Tuesday, they and other diners met officers like James Spearman, who many times they see driving a squad car along neighborhood streets.
Spearman works for the East Dundee Police Department. Attending the dinner gave him a chance to stop the car and talk with people who he waves to while patrolling the streets.
"Anytime (police officers and residents) can see each other on a human level is important," he said. "Attending this dinner was important to me because it shows that I care and they care. I wanted to say thank you for caring."
"These days, there's a lot of stress and strain on law enforcement. Dinners like this help ease it."
Church volunteers can take credit for helping foster a good relationship between the Route 31 church and the community with the dinner, but they can't take credit for supplying and preparing the menu for the 150 guests.
The appetizers, entree and dessert were donated and cooked by employees of On The Border Mexican Grill and Cantina in Algonquin.
"We have been looking for a way to give back to the community for supporting us," said the restaurant's managing partner, Jeffrey Yale. "We read about the dinners and decided this is a great way to show our support. It's a coincidence that we agreed on this dinner, but we are glad we are here. It's a great idea."
The dinners, hosted on the second Tuesday of the month from 5-7 p.m., are all about opening up the church's doors and the congregation's arms, said the Rev. Aaron James, pastor. They are not just for the congregation, but for the entire community.
"It's a way of showing our love for God through love of community. Every month, we have been seeing an increase in participation and attendance," James said. "We see new faces at the tables and ones that we see every month."
The dozen or so police officers who attended Tuesday's dinner, hopefully will be able to return with their families for future dinners, he said.