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Rebecca’s Café marks 10 years, 50,000 meals
Namesake founder returns for fundraising event
Rebecca's Café founder Rebecca Murray
Rebecca Murray, namesake of the Rebecca's Café organization that provides free meals to patrons twice a week, addresses the crowd of volunteers and supporters at the 10-year celebration and fundraiser. (JULIE LAVENDER/staff)

Originally founded under the name "Feeding Statesboro," Rebecca's Café recently celebrated 10 years helping feed the Statesboro community, with more than 50,000 meals prepared and served during the last decade. 

A celebration and fundraising event was held inside Rebecca's Café — the cafeteria of the former Julia P. Bryant Elementary School on Donnie Simmons Way. 

Rebecca Murray, the organizer for whom the non-profit organization derives its name, attended the fundraiser and addressed the crowded cafeteria. Murray, who moved away after the inception of Feeding Statesboro, first to Terre Haute, Indiana, then to Miami, returned to Statesboro for the event. Murray shared the origin of the organization and humbly said the café could have been named after a number of individuals.  

"Several of us from church were at a dinner party at Jessica and Howard Keeley's home," Murray said. "And in the background, this extreme makeover show was on television. I remember thinking, 'If I could be on that show, what would I do?' Then I realized, I had everything I ever wanted — a house, a career, my family. And I knew it was time for me to think about giving back instead."

Murray later approached the Rev. Joan Kilian, Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, after a Sunday service to discuss the hunger problem in Bulloch County. From there, several others joined in on the brainstorming and planning. 

"The important thing is that a group of people got together to do something for their community," Murray said. "It's not nearly as hard as you think. Your spark fits with someone else's spark and someone else's spark and then it turns into a fire."

After much research, planning and organizing, the non-profit Feeding Statesboro organization served the first of the once-a-week meals at Trinity Episcopal Church. Jim Bastarache, Rebecca's Café vice president and operations manager, remembers that eight people showed up for that first meal. 

"That number grew to 15," Bastarache said, "and then one time in May only one person showed up." 

Organizers recognized that the location of the church was an obstacle to some, so the group served meals for a time at Cornerstone Church downtown, then moved to Luetta Moore Park. 

"We didn't want to wear out our welcome there," Kilian said. "We were there for several years, but we needed to find a more permanent home."

Moving to Julia P.

Joe Bill Brannon, operations director at Food Bank Inc., made the group aware of an opportunity to secure the kitchen and cafeteria from the school board of the old Julia P. Bryant Elementary School. The Food Bank operates out of a wing of the old school, and Feeding Statesboro works closely with the Food Bank to provide the meals at no cost to patrons. 

It took some painting, floor stripping, cleaning and equipment repair, but the new location with a totally functional kitchen, walk-in cooler and walk-in freezer and large area for patrons to sit and visit after a meal have worked beautifully for the organization.  

Renamed Rebecca's Café, the group now serves about 80 or more, twice a week, and served 300 this past Thanksgiving. Volunteers serve meals every Tuesday and Thursday at lunchtime, with patrons arriving at 11:45 a.m. The serving line opens at noon and closes at 1:30 p.m.

"There is no requirement to receive a meal," Bastarache said. "Patrons sign their name at the door, just for us to get a count and turn in a report to Second Harvest, where we get much of our food, but no other requirements."

Volunteers and volunteer groups are assigned specific meals so that each group serves one time per month. A large group of interfaith, interdenominational groups make up the calendar of volunteers. Chris Van Tassell, volunteer and member of Statesboro's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said, "The project is more than just one or two churches; it's a wonderful community project." 

Community volunteer Gwen Littles concurred and said, "It's a whole community effort to put this on."

"We have a good time while we're here volunteering, and we hope that the patrons not only get fed physically, but spiritually and emotionally," Kilian said.

Bastarache said that serving meals to those who need assistance is the only reward he needs.

"When I have someone walk through the line and say, 'You folks are a blessing. I haven't eaten in three days,' that's enough for me to know I'm doing the right thing," he said.

Rebie Newsome, team organizer for the First Baptist Church volunteers for five-plus years, said she first began serving with Rebecca's Café at a time when she had a "a lot on her plate" with caregiving responsibilities and other volunteer efforts.

"The Lord kept telling me that I should do that, and without a doubt, when I surrendered, it was definitely the thing to do," Newsome said. "I always wanted to help people after I retired, and it has been such a blessing to serve the community in that way because my major field was home economics. It was a calling."

The churches and organizations committed to serve monthly are Trinity Episcopal Church, Pittman Park United Methodist Church, Kiwanis, First Presbyterian Church, Magnolia Baptist Church, Unitarian Universalists Fellowship of Statesboro, First Baptist Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Cake/Shannon Ward and crew, and the Pool Hotties water aerobics class. Two other groups served in the past, AME Church and Georgia Southern University Food Services. 

Murray ended her address to those attending the fundraiser with a wish and hope for the future: "Your spark and dedication have turned this into a fire, a bonfire. May that fire burn warm and bright for many decades." 

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