Community Meal team

Photo by Caitlin Able

The Brook Community Meal team, from left to right: Dan Burge, Judy Washburn, Nana Cooper, Laura Cooper, Kara Cooper, Karen Cooper, Jerry Johnson, Sharon Hiatt, Mike Osowski, Judy Wilson, and Meagan Cooper.

BROOK — The Brook United Methodist Church closed out 2021 with a record number of people served in its weekly Community Meal, which is on pause for the holiday season.

The meal, which is a service members of the church and the Brook community have been operating since 2012, has undergone changes since its inception, largely due to the COVID pandemic. Instead of being served in the fellowship hall of the church, attendees now line the side of the church and the main street of Brook as they pull through a drive-through service to receive a hot meal, eggs, and other grocery staples.

Due to quarantine restrictions, the cooking staff was also required to change, as beforehand, it had been a multi-household effort to prepare the meals that were served in the fellowship hall. Karen Cooper and her nine daughters stepped up to take over meal preparations, aided in boxing, delivery, and dessert preparation by other members of the church.

“Obviously when things were starting to shut down, they were worried about the meal,” Cooper recalled. “I have enough girls, and we could pretty much handle it on our own. We all live together, and we share the same germs; so it wasn’t bringing a lot of different people into contact with each other. We volunteered to take over, and at that time, it was going to be maybe a month or two. Here we still are, but that’s just how it worked out. I’ve told people that I just walk through the doors as God opens them, and this just fell in my lap. ”

Since Cooper took over cooking and meal preparations, the Community Meal has served 20,194 hot meals to the people of Brook and the surrounding communities.

In addition to providing weekly meals, the outreach program began providing its attendees with pantry staples in order to help get them through the week. Since the program’s inception, Rose Acres has provided cartons of eggs,and Murphy’s Food King in Kentland and Strack & Van Til provide baked goods, which are all passed out with the meal.

After getting in contact with the Humanitarian Distribution Center in Francesville, the Community Meal began receiving two pallets of food to create a pantry, which they have been using to provide their attendees with groceries.

“There were weeks when we didn’t have much for giveaways,” said Cooper, “and we’d buy mac and cheese and give everybody a box of that with their eggs and baked goods. We tried to have something every week. When the opportunity came for us to get those two pallets of food, where I knew I would have plenty to put in their bags every week, it just kind of blossomed, and now we have a whole room full of food to let them choose what they want. It’s just kind of evolved.”

Since the food pantry was started in May of 2021, the Community Meal has provided 718 families with groceries and other pantry staples.

The Community Meal is a service project through the church, and as such, the organizers have been able to determine their stipulations without outside oversight. There are no requirements set regarding income, family size, or residency.

“We just help people that need food, and we give them food,” explained Cooper. “I know a lot of food pantries have stipulations about where you live and your income, but we just don’t do that. We’re not exactly a food pantry; I don’t think there’s anybody else that does exactly what we do.”

The ability to give through the Community Meal has provided other local businesses with an outlet to participate, as was the case with Aloha Produce, who donated several Christmas trees to families that participated in the meal.

While people who come through the line to receive food occasionally donate to give back, the Community Meal is largely funded by donations from businesses and other organizations. The program also received a grant from the Jasper-Newton Foundation that has supported their efforts.

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