Free Meal Programs Find New Ways To Serve Athens Community While Facing Pandemic Changes< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The pandemic forced free meal programs in Athens County to get creative in order to continue feeding the community safely.
Athens County is the most food insecure in Ohio. More than 20% of the population suffers from food insecurity, according to the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.
Local free meal programs are a lifeline to many in the community, providing a nutritional and stable meal every day of the week at no charge.
“Last year was really difficult not really knowing how we were allowed to interact with folks,” Athens Church of Christ Minister Bruce Stoker said.
Several organizations offered curbside pickup distribution for their meal services, while others remained open after altering their programs to fit with statewide COVID guidelines.
United Campus Ministry closed its building to the public in March but still offered pickup meals after adapting.
But attendance continues to suffer even as COVID restrictions roll back and vaccination rates go up.
“We would average easily 40 a week [before the pandemic], now we’re heading back toward that but 25 to 30 is a good week for us,” Stoker said.
One diner who gets meals from the Good Works program told WOUB that sometimes people feel guilty thinking attending free meals will take away from someone else in need.
Organizers throughout Athens said there is enough food to go around.
But a lack of volunteers and donors has resulted in fewer supplemental meals, such as canned goods, being given out
Good Works has been serving meals, providing housing and helping the community for forty years.
A main priority for their free meal programs is providing healthy, balanced nutritional meals.
“Nutrition became more important as I became a type two diabetic and realized that we wanted to help people with food that was both tasty and healthy,” Good Works Director and Founder Keith Wasserman said. “We’ve been trying our best to have a balance of vegetables and proteins.”
Nutrition isn’t the only reason people attend, free meals are also a chance for people to connect with their community.
“Many of the people who come come for the community rather than the nutrition and they get both,” Jennifer Somerville with UCM said.
A diner at Good Works’ daily meal program said she’s been going for a decade because she enjoys the fellowship a sitdown meal brings.
Organizations said they are continuing to provide community meals as best as possible and hope to return to sit down meals in the fall.
“As much as we can adapt we try to adapt.” Wasserman said.
Free Meal Services in Athens
First United Methodist Church: Take-home meals available Mondays from noon to 12:45 p.m. at 2 College Street.
Athens Church of Christ: Take-home meals available Tuesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at 785 West Union Street.
United Campus Ministry: Take-home meals available Tuesday’s from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday’s from noon to 1 p.m. at 18 North College Street.
Good Works: Sit-down meals available daily from noon to 1p.m. at the Plains United Methodist Church until August 6.
Good Works: Sit-down meals and events available Friday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at 7857 Luhrig Road.
Episocal Church of the Good Shepherd: Food pantry available 24/7 at 64 University Terrace.