For two years, the First Congregational Church in West Dundee has hosted free monthly dinners for the Northern Fox Valley community.
When they started in 2015, volunteers were overjoyed to feed 70 people. Many of them were hungry; many wanted to spend an evening sharing a meal with friends, old or new.
Volunteers learned that many of their diners attended not just for a meal but for companionship, wanting to break out of their isolated dinner routines.
"The dinners are a social experience for many people who live alone and have no one to eat with," said church member Jane Keeys.
"We have people come and see former classmates they haven't seen since high school. We also have people who come here and spend the entire evening talking with people they have just met. A lot of people look forward to the dinners (as their monthly outing)."
In those two years, the number of regular diners has doubled. When they meet this month, they, the church and its dinner organizing committee will celebrate their birthday with the "Taste of the Hill," featuring more than a dozen area restaurants that will contribute food.
"People will have a chance to go to the various tables representing the restaurants and decide what they want to eat," said Bonnie Whetstone.
She and Keeys are members of the committee that organizes the dinners.
"We'll have a good representation of the restaurants in and around the Dundee area," she said.
Some of the restaurants will be Alexander's Cafe and Paul's Restaurant of Elgin, Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches of West Dundee, and El Molino Mexican Restaurant in Carpentersville.
The free meal will be from 5 to 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month, Sept. 12.
"We do ask for donations to cover some of the costs. People donate what they can afford," Keeys said. "We've had donations of 27 cents and 38 cents, but this isn't about serving the poor. This is an outreach effort for the church and the Dundee community."
When it started two years ago, First Congregational Church members wanted to get the community together for at least once a month to share a meal. They were hoping neighboring churches would do the same.
Some have shown an interest, yet the Route 31 church has carried the dinner bell for nearly 24 months.
With the help of neighboring businesses that have donated food, ice and other items, the load is not unbearable, she said.
For more information about the monthly dinners, call (847) 426-2161.