Lauren Marsh, director and president of Community Meal Center, stands with Joe Schrock, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, stands inside Zion Lutheran Church that hosts a free dinner on Friday evenings. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Hamilton non-profit expands offerings for the hungry

Community Meals Center will now serve meals 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at Zion Lutheran Church in Hamilton, adding to its existing Tuesday program there after recently ending Friday hours at the Presbyterian Church of Hamilton.

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“It’s all on one floor and our guests don’t have to go down steps,” Lauren Marsh, CMC’s director and board president, said of Zion Lutheran. “We also have optimized our volunteer availability, as well as expanding our services.”

Marsh started the organization 18 years ago serving the working poor and homeless who need to take care of both their physical and spiritual hunger.

The impetus of the program, she said, was a nighttime dream that inspired her to help people in need.

“Our mission is to provide a safe and dignified haven where a hot meal can be shared,” Marsh said, noting that CMC has helped launch numerous similar efforts at other area churches.

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CMC-provided meals are served restaurant style and those who turn out to be fed do not have prove their low-income level, just sign in a guest registry to allow the organization to keep the statistics that help it fund the program.

The non-profit has no staff and relies on volunteers to keep things running. Charles H. Dater Foundation is its primary foundation for funding, although community individuals and civic organizations also donate to help the cause.

The center provides more than just food. Nurses come to provide free foot care, musicians provide entertainment during dinner and masseuses stop by to give free massages while guests are seated in special massage chairs.

“It’s just a wonderful place where everybody can bring their own individual gift,” Marsh said.

CMC parnters with other meal programs around the city, harvests food that would otherwise by thrown out from Bob Evans, Starbucks and Fort Hamilton Hospital.

This year it partnered with the city of Hamilton in an attempt to reduce local deer overpopulation, using the venison to feed hungry people.

“It’s a huge collaboration and everybody is very gracious,” Marsh said. “I appreciate all the folks who come out to help.”

Joseph Schock, Zion Lutheran Church’s senior pastor, said for 175 years, generations of members of the church practice their faith by nurturing, loving and serving God, the people of Hamilton, the people of Butler County and beyond.

“One of the key pieces of that incarnational faith and love continues to be feeding people in mind, body and spirit,” Schrock said.

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