50 Meals in 50 Minutes

By Drew Page

MARLBOROUGH (12/17/2013) -- Times have changed. The pace of the world keeps getting faster, and churches are often left in the dust scratching their heads to figure out how to keep up. At the Congregational Church of Marlborough UCC, they have embraced the concept of the fast in a new model for serving the hungry. The program is called the Drive-Thru Cafe: 50 Meals in 50 Minutes. And it is simple.

The program begins with 10 volunteers recruited by coordinator Audra DeFelice, each willing to prepare a meal for 6 people. For the first Drive-Thru Cafe in September, this meant bringing meatloaf for 6, a one pound bag of broccoli, and a can of gravy to the church. Volunteers gather at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon at the church where Chef David Bates supervises the creation of the food preparation line. Two volunteers stand in the driveway to direct the cars to the kitchen door while others serve as greeters to welcome the ticket holders. When the cars arrive, the greeters welcome guests, take the tickets and help carry out the hot meals, packaged in sectioned take-out containers.

The ticket holders are clients of the local food bank where Marlborough Congregational acts as the purchasing agent. When the church began the Drive-Thru Cafe, they issued 50 tickets to Food Bank Manager Joanne Goode and asked her to hand them out to people she felt would benefit. When the clients arrive for their meals, church checks the names against a list Goode provides so they can report back who redeemed the tickets and who didn?t. When all the meals are issued ? a task that takes less than an hour ? the volunteers sit down together and break bread with the remaining food, celebrating a little service and fellowship time.

Pastor the Rev. Robert Faulhaber says the idea came to him after a church member suggested holding a monthly meal for folks from the food bank. Faulhaber feared a sit down meal would be uncomfortable for many of the food bank clients, but thought the ministry was important.

"I thought to myself, why not do this like a drive through where people don't have to come into the building to eat," he said.

It was the location of the kitchen door that gave Faulhaber the idea. The church driveway loops around the building, passing the back door of the church's kitchen. The idea of driving in for a hot, take-out meal seemed like a good way to feed people while creating a comfortable environment for them to accept the church's generosity.

The concept worked. In September, only 8 of the 50 tickets issued were not redeemed. Now, the local food bank clients are "clamoring" for the tickets, according to Goode.

Faulhaber says the program has three main goals: feed the hungry, offer a hands-on mission for church members, and provide some fellowship time. But it does not end there. Faulhaber wants to reach out to the other churches in Marlborough and offer them the chance to volunteer to prepare and serve the drive-thru meals at the church. He even envisions a wider goal.

"We're hoping that other UCC churches in Connecticut see this story, call us up and say 'tell us how you do it'," says Faulhaber. "We've worked out the wrinkles. We're the test pilots."

For more information, call Marlborough Congregational Church at 860.295.9050.

Drew Page is the News & Media Editor for the Connecticut Conference UCC.