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— Those who walk into the SAME Cafe in Searcy get a belly-warming meal and soul-warming fellowship.

The cafe, a ministry of the West Side Church of Christ in Searcy, provides a free hot meal to anyone who walks through the doors. The church is at 709 W. Arch Ave.

Daniel Dawson is the deacon in charge of fellowship at the church, and he and the Fellowship Committee began brainstorming almost four years ago about what they could do in outreach for the community. Dawson, who coordinates the volunteers for this ministry, said the homeless, poor and disadvantaged people of Searcy came to mind, and the idea for the SAME Cafe was tossed onto the table.

Although the church hosts the cafe twice a month, there is no “preaching.”

“We didn’t want it to be a ‘bait and switch’ sort of deal where we start preaching when they walk in the door,” Dawson said. “We do it like Jesus would do. … We’re there if someone needs prayer, and we have literature there. It’s pretty low-key and very laid back.”

The cafe is open to anyone who wants a hot meal and no offering is taken.

“We have a lot of regulars, but we always get new people, too,” Dawson said about the 40 to 80 people who come for food on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Planning meals without knowing exactly how many will attend was challenging at first, church member Debra Shelton said, but she pretty well knows how to shop and cook to feed the most people for the least amount of money.

“I plan meals around what meat I can get cheap,” Shelton said. “We plan vegetables around the main meal, and we tend to do a lot of casseroles.”

She said the number of people who come to eat each time has leveled out to around 65.

“A lot of those folks get two or three plates each; they can eat all they want,” Shelton said.

West Side Church of Christ has 12 to 15 members who are home-bound, and leftover plates of food are delivered to them as well.

“I felt like I needed to be doing more to reach out to the community to those who are hungry,” Shelton said. “It’s hard economic times, and there are a lot of people out there who are hungry, and I love to cook for large groups.”

When Dawson and Shelton aren’t working with the ministry to feed the hungry, they work full time at their day jobs.

Dawson is the general manager of the Searcy Water & Sewer Systems, and Shelton is the assistant to the dean of the College of Science at Harding University.

In addition to the SAME Cafe, Searcy also has the Tree of Life Soup Kitchen, offered by the First United Methodist Church from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the second Saturday of each month at Yancey Hall at First United Methodist Church, 304 N. Main St.

For more information on the SAME Cafe, call (501) 268-2951.

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

Three Rivers, Pages 51 on 08/11/2011

Print Headline: Searcy church feeds the hungry

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