Eat for free at Geneva and St. Charles churches
Matt Rhead was driving home from work one day, thinking about friends who had been laid off from their jobs and were cutting back on expenses, especially the fun stuff like eating out.
Rhead was wondering what he could do to relieve some of their tension when he hit upon an idea he liked so much that he took it to his buddy, Joe Ryan. And that's how "Two Guys and Free Spaghetti" was born at St. Charles Episcopal Church, 994 N. 5th Ave., on the last Sunday of each month.
Inspired by the success of the Spaghetti Guys, United Methodist Church of Geneva, 211 Hamilton St., also serves Third Tuesday Suppers free to the public, and Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, 227 E. Side Drive, Geneva, cooks on the third Friday of the month.
For all three, the hours are 5 to 7 p.m.
All three have a "silent" coffee pot or can where people can drop donations if they're so inclined, but nobody asks for money, there are no sermons, and no one recruits for new members.
The Spaghetti Guys, now expanded to six men and one woman who do all the cooking and share the financial cost, make their sauce and meatballs from scratch and ladle the mixture over buccatini - "a better pasta, in my opinion," Rhead said.
Supper is served on Corian dinnerware by youth group members in white shirts and black pants.
"It's as professional and high quality as possible," Rhead said.
The Episcopal cooks have made 1,300 meals over the past 13 months, Rhead estimates.
The Methodists served 119 people at their first supper last October and were up to 402 at the April meal.
"We're making good homemade food," said Beth Kucera, co-chair of Third Tuesday Suppers. "We're not giving them messy-looking, goopy casseroles. We really take our time and try to come up with meals that have good ingredients."
Head chef Gayle Taylor's meals are so popular, in fact, that Kucera foresees a cookbook project in the near future. Scheduled for May 18 was the first "signature" meal - "a sauteed chicken thing that everybody loved and gobbled up when we had it before," Kucera said.
The Presbyterians just got into the game in April, whipping up a pork and mashed potatoes meal.
"We all left that first evening and just felt so good," said Ruth Ann Seney, hospitality chair. "People felt welcomed, the food was good, they enjoyed their meal."
At all the churches, there's an emphasis not only on quality cooking but also on hospitality. Everyone is invited for dinner, not just those without jobs; and the volunteers try to build a sense of community by striking up conversation.
"It's really a two-pronger," Seney said. "It's to offer a dinner to families in the community at no cost, and also to build the sense of community within our own church family."
For those who can't stay, free takeout is available at the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
Rhead, Kucera and Seney all said they would like to see more churches copy the program or devise their own. There's even talk of a coalition that would meet to share ideas.
"We don't have any illusions that one free meal a month is going to have an impact on people's finances," Rhead said, "but if lots of churches do it, it can make a difference."
Good works in Haiti: A Sugar Grove pastor who apparently left his heart in Haiti nearly three decades ago will return this month for his ninth visit, the first since the devastating earthquake there in January.
The earthquake famously made Haiti's already desperate conditions even worse, so the Rev. Steve Good, pastor of Sugar Grove United Methodist Church, isn't quite sure what to expect this time.
"You can only prepare yourself so much beforehand," he said. "It's hard enough for seasoned travelers to Haiti, is what I've heard."
Good was introduced to Haiti in 1982 as a student at Indiana's Goshen College, where he was required to choose an international location for a three-month Study-Service Term. He learned about the culture and history, and he taught English. He quickly picked up enough of the local language, Creole, to translate for visiting medical teams.
There was just something about this impoverished island nation that kept calling Good back. Over the years he has led church groups there and introduced them to people he knows "so we're not just talking about poor people in the Third World," he said. "But, this is Jean-Claude, and I've met Marie, and it gives them a whole new perspective."
For many years he served as a board member and fundraiser for Grace Children's Hospital in Port-au-Prince.
"That became my connection from far away," Good said.
After 28 years of involvement, what changes has he seen in Haiti?
"I've not seen any changes in terms of the poverty at all," he said.
Haitians continue to struggle with dismal living conditions, public health issues and rampant unemployment estimated to affect 60 percent to 70 percent of the work force, he said. The embattled environment is another crisis without an easy fix.
On previous trips, Good focused on building relationships and bringing medicine for doctors to dispense. This time, however, he'll be joining other United Methodists from New York and Pennsylvania in a building project in the village of Mellier.
"Initially we were going to do deconstruction, but the Haitians have pretty much completed that," Good said. "They had a church and a school that were ruined from the earthquake. I believe what we're going to do is build at least a temporary structure that can withstand the heat and rain and the upcoming hurricane season."
The Americans will follow the Haitians' lead, he said.
"They need the resources to buy the materials, but they know how to build things."
Primary funding for this month's trip was provided by the Sugar Grove congregation and also by United Methodist Church of Geneva, where Good was an associate pastor 20 years ago.
Prayers for the military: If you have a family member or friend serving in the military, St. Hugh of Lincoln Episcopal Church wants to support you and pray for your loved one at two special services each month.
"At a time when our country is in the middle of two wars," said the Rev. Marion Phipps, "the least the church can do is to be praying and offering care to those whose lives are most impacted."
Services will be held at 7 p.m. every fourth Wednesday of the month and at 7 a.m. every second Tuesday at the corner of Highland Avenue and Randall Road in Elgin.
And if you ask, the church will also send a birthday card to your loved one serving in the military.
• "In the Spirit" covers churches and synagogues in the Fox Valley area. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to submit information or ideas for upcoming columns.