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Eighty people ate a meal freely given Tuesday from Rebecca's Café. This week's plate included penne pasta with meat sauce, a mixed green salad with cherry tomatoes, herb bread and a fruit cup of strawberries, peaches and pineapple.
Recently based at the Jones-Love Cultural Center in Luetta Moore Park, the café exists just one day each week, Tuesday, and serves only lunch. Rebecca's is the location name for Feeding Statesboro, an all-volunteer effort to help people who could use a healthy meal at no cost. But a basket at the sign-in table welcomes donations, and many do give a dollar or two.
A man named James, 46, said he has food at home. He can't work because of a disability, and the park is within walking distance of his home.
"I just enjoy coming and hanging out and meeting all the people," he said. "And it's good food."
Vickie Marshall heard about it from her aunt and now drives over with her grandson, age 4.
"It's good to have a place to come to, to sit down and eat," said Marshall, who last worked at a restaurant. Out of work the past couple of years, she said, she is hampered by diabetes and high blood pressure.
Like Joanne Carter, who is 64 and put in for her Social Security two years ago after giving up trying to find another job, Marshall said that money she saves on one meal a week can go to other needs.
"You got it," said Carter, whose Social Security check amounts to about $800 a month. "When I get my bills, it's like everything is figured in to where it's going."
She appreciated the meal she didn't have to fix for herself enough to follow the program through its two previous location changes. Feeding Statesboro, a community group organized just for this purpose, passed the one-year mark of its weekly free lunch program in mid-February. Upon arrival at the third site, at the park on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, organizers adopted the Rebecca's Café name in honor of Rebecca Murray, Feeding Statesboro's first president, who has moved away since the program's inception.
Besides the dine-in option, Rebecca's Café serves take-out lunches but applies a one-person, one-meal policy. Volunteers insist on seeing a face before issuing a second to-go box, sometimes going to a car to see someone who would have difficulty coming in, said Jim Bastarache, corresponding secretary for Feeding Statesboro.
But the group makes no financial demands, either for cash or information, from diners.
"If you want to give something, you're certainly welcome to, but there's certainly no obligation to give anything at all," Bastarache said. "We don't ask people for identification, income verification, anything like that. There's really and truly no qualifications whatsoever."
Feeding Statesboro has not applied to become a nonprofit corporation but plans to do so, he said.
Bastarache is member of Trinity Episcopal Church, which supplies a team of volunteers who prepare and serve the meal once each month. Volunteers from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship led Tuesday's team, and First Presbyterian Church also leads a team in the monthly rotation. Other congregations, such as St. Matthew Catholic Church, have volunteers who help on various weeks.
Louiser Keel learned about Feeding Statesboro while volunteering at another location in an outreach for her church, Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal, and now helps out every week. So does Mary Love, who mentioned no particular church affiliation but works with Keel at the sign-in table.
Another volunteer from Trinity Episcopal, Natalie Whittle, has taken the initiative to bring donated clothing items and place them on a table each week. Many people who came in for meals also carried home warm clothing items during the winter, she reports.
Individuals who first enjoyed the meals have also come back as volunteers, note organizers who are trying to de-emphasize Feeding Statesboro's church connections.
"We would be glad for civic groups to volunteer. This is a community organization," said the Rev. Jane Page, Unitarian Universalist minister. "It's not an organization run by churches. It's just that some of the churches have gotten involved."
Feeding Statesboro coordinates its efforts with The Food Bank Inc., whose lead volunteer Joe Bill Brannon helps supply certain items for the Tuesday lunch.
The Feeding Statesboro teams purchase other ingredients and collect donated items from various sources. Some businesses are regular donors. Sugar Magnolia Bakery provides bread and Cookie Cutters Bakery often gives cookies.
With these sources, this week's team was able to reduce the cost of the meal to under $1 per person, said Pauline deLaar, the week's chief cook. They plan to make the pasta, salad and bread combination their standard offering for each third Tuesday.
"We're trying to do economical but healthy, and something most people are going to like," she said.
Some Tuesday's diners mentioned that they also attend the Saturday soup kitchen hosted by First United Methodist Church.
A crowd of about 80 people has been typical of recent Tuesdays at Rebecca's Café. On holidays when children are out of school, it increases to 100-110, reported Bastarache. With a seasonal menu, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving set the record for plates served: 234.
Feeding Statesboro has no immediate plans to expand to other days.
"That's one meal, but if they can get a good, nutritious meal that they don't have to buy, that may allow them to buy that pair of shoes for their child, you know?" Page said. "It's not that much, but it's a help."