By Hayden Emrah
Friendly conversations, the smell of good food, and the sounds of classic rock. This is what any Muncie resident can look forward to at the Avondale United Methodist Church every Thursday at 5 p.m.
Located on the corner of South Sampson Avenue and 10th Street in the Thomas Park/Avondale neighborhood, the Avondale United Methodist Church has been providing locals not only with a free meal, but a chance to connect and build a sense of community.
“This isn’t really about food, although it’s a big component,” said Rev. Josh Arthur, pastor of Avondale United Methodist Church. “Normally, you would see some of these folks who are out here, downstairs cooking together.” He added that it’s a chance for members of the community to come together and share with one another.
It began in May of 2017, when Arthur, Rev. Neil Kring and Darbi Strahle, along with other parishioners, started holding weekly outdoor cookouts. They quickly recognized it as an opportunity to create a bigger positive impact on the community, so the meals started to be hosted in the church’s basement hall.
COVID-19 restrictions moved the meals back outdoors. But it doesn’t seem to have dulled the chatter among locals, many of whom are longtime residents of the neighborhood.
Dwight Flemming is a veteran who retired from BorgWarner. He said he relies on the weekly meals, as well as the sense of community the church provides.
“A helping hand like this is rare,” said Dwight. He added that when COVID-19 started, “they still provided for us when it really mattered.”
The community meal also has been a chance to provide other services, such as a weekly “recovery café” for those recovering from addiction, and walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinics provided by Open Door Health Services.
“People would begin, often times, and sit with their regular folks and then they’d develop friendships and conversation and then they can share information,” said Arthur. He explained that if someone came to him with a problem, all he had to do was ask around the room for help.
Avondale United Methodist Church is planning on bringing back indoor meals once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and its remodeling the kitchen as part of a grant from IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital and the Ross Community Center.
“This has become a place of peace for people,” said Arthur. “I’ve seen folks that have a beef with each other out there, eat in the same room together.”