By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — They are paying it forward with pasta.
Serving up mounds of spaghetti and sauce, volunteers were making sure everyone had enough to eat.
West Running Brook Middle School hosted a free spaghetti supper last week for anyone who wanted a warm meal or just some conversation over dinner. More than 40 people turned out for the dinner and had plenty to take home afterward.
The school is just one of a long list of area churches and organizations that are part of the Derry Community Meals Network, a mission offering people free — or nearly free — meals.
It’s not just about food, but also fellowship.
Churches in town take turns putting community meals on the schedule. Schools like West Running Brook also do their part.
Lorrie Belinsky, assistant principal there, said the school hosts many dinners as part of the community meal network. The school hosted the community’s first Thanksgiving feast in November.
West Running Brook has hosted free monthly spaghetti dinners for about three years.
It’s all about paying it forward.
“We do reach out,” Belinsky said. “We had a good crowd.”
West Running Brook reaches out to parents for donations of boxed spaghetti throughout the year. Anything left over is donated to local food pantries once the spaghetti dinners end for the summer.
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on East Broadway offers monthly potluck meals as part of the community meals program.
It’s an important ministry, church members say.
“A lot of the guests that attend our meals also go to the Sonshine Soup Kitchen for meals during the week,” St. Luke’s member Kim Champoux said. “The Community Meals Network fills that gap (on weekends) for many people.”
Champoux said guests include senior citizens and people on limited incomes. They attend not just for the food, but also for the chance to socialize, she said.
Some diners have started attending St. Luke’s services on a regular basis.
Tammy Craft said participation in the network helps St. Luke’s connect with people who truly appreciate the help.
“Everyone is so excited to share in a great meal and great company,” Craft said. “We are not only helping others in the community, we are helping ourselves. The people of St. Luke’s have grown so much and become much more open to serving others since we began this relationship.”
Judy Follo is part of St. Luke’s potluck team. She said the outreach aspect of the meal network gives younger church members a chance to connect with the community.
“I do feel more connected to the community,” she said. “Even the kids recognize some of our guests outside of church, something they would not regularly note if not for meeting these folks at the dinners.”
The Community Meals Network hopes to add more churches to its list of those opening their doors for free meals. Upcoming meals are March 29, 5 to 6:30 p.m., First Parish Congregational Church, 47 East Derry Road; March 31, noon, Seventh Day Adventist Church, 7 Brook St.; and April 7, 9 to 10 a.m., Church of the Transfiguration, 1 Hood Road.