NORTH ROYALTON – Some were hungry for food, others thirsted for companionship. One thing’s for sure, everyone walked away with a full belly and a full heart from the city’s first ever Community Meal.
This unique, first-ever event was hosted by eight of the cities local churches, their ministers and volunteers from each congregation from 3-5 p.m. April 27 at St. Albert the Great Parish.
The monthly event, which will be hosted the last Sunday of every month moving forward, is open to all residents and is meant to bolster a sense of community spirit but also to feed those who could use a free meal.
Churches involved include St. Albert, Royal Redeemer Lutheran Church, Abundant Life Community Church, North Royalton United Methodist Church, St. Matthew the Evangelist Antiochian Orthodox Church, St. Paul Greek Orthodox and SRC Church of the Nazarene.
Carol Polomsky, a St. Albert parishioner, dropped by the church Sunday afternoon to break bread with her neighbors and take a peek at the very first community meal’s turnout. She was very encouraged by what she saw. Close to 80 attended and a total of 137 meals were served.
“I’m anxious to see what happens in the long run,” she said.
She loves the fact that the churches partnered together to make this happen.
“I think it’s great. I like the idea of trying to help each other, trying to take care of one another, paying attention to one another. Times have gotten so sad, but this, this is encouraging to me,” Polomsky, a North Royalton resident, said. “I’m happy we’re doing this as a community, the churches, that’s what this is all about.”
Just then a server placed a piping hot plate of roasted chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans and roll in front of Polomsky.
“Oh, does that look great? I’m so glad I’m cheating,” she smiled, referring to her diet.
Janice Stefanik, Mayor Bob Stefanik’s wife, echoed Polomsky exactly.
“This is an awesome idea, a great community project. Community, I think that’s what this is all about,” she said.
She and the mayor visited with Gaetano Simonelli Jr. and his son Gaetano Simonelli III, 9, over dinner, swapping stories and getting to know one another better.
“Good luck,” the mayor said to the boy as he and his dad got up to leave.
“Thank you,” the 9-year-old said back to the mayor with a smile.
“He has the state mandated tests this week,” Simonelli said, explaining the mayor’s well wishes.
Another man sat at their table, too, and opened up about some of the hard times that have befallen him. The meal volunteers served him a full meal and sent him home with plenty of leftovers.
“Look how they are helping him? They’re feeding him and sending him home with a meal now. That’s what he needs. Until you live in someone else’s shoes,” Simonelli said, trailing off. “This is a beautiful thing.”
Stefanik said he walked away full on food and friendly conversation and will be back for more next month.
“It was a good time,” he said. “We are blessed in North Royalton to have churches that really give back to the community.”
Rev. Edward Estok, pastor of St. Albert, said it was a decent crowd for the first meal, but he envisions them growing each month.
“It’s everything I imagined. Most of the ministers were here, the mayor was here, two councilmen were here, volunteers from all the churches,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for more than that.”
Everyone admires the unity that this event fosters, not just among residents but among the eight churches in hosting this. Estok is just as awestruck as others.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?” he smiled.
Estok said this venture will likely open the door to more collaboration among the churches.
“I imagine there’ll be other things we do,” he said.
Ward 4 Councilman Paul Marnecheck and Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw, who both call St. Albert home, attended the event. Marnecheck helped served meals. Langshaw had a plate with his family but felt called to do more in the future.
“I’m going to volunteer next month. This is my home church. It makes me happy to live in North Royalton. It’s inspiring me to be a part of it. Why not next month?” Langshaw said.
While volunteers loaded plates that servers carried directly to seated guests, other volunteers were in the kitchen keepin’ the food a’comin’.
Carole Kralik, of St. Albert, was in the back peeling potatoes.
She enjoys serving God by helping others, adding it doesn’t take a lot of money or talent to help a neighbor in need, it just takes a servant’s heart.
“I feel called to do this,” Kralik said. “Yep, you can serve God peeling potatoes.”
The church was planning for 200 guests but made food for much, much more just in case they were hit with a big crowd.
They served up 170 pounds of chicken, three big cases of sweet potatoes and a big case of green beans.
“We’ll have plenty of food,” Mary Zawie, a St. Albert parishioner, said.
Any leftovers were sent downtown to those in need.
Meanwhile back in the dining room, Dorothy Radtke, of Parma Heights, was enjoying the meal and the company. She met a few new friends at the event.
“I think it’s nice to get together and meet new people. This meal is interesting. One, you can say hi to someone you didn’t even know before and two, it’s great for seniors who don’t have a lot of places to go,” Radtke said. “It’s beautiful.”
Joe MacDonald, who grew up in Parma but is new to North Royalton, said the meal was great way for him and his girlfriend Monica Karcz to plug into North Royalton. They’re trying to make connections in the community through a variety of ways.
MacDonald phoned Stefanik recently asking for suggestions. Stefanik mentioned attending council meetings, which MacDonald did. He met Marnecheck who told him about the meal.
He said his church, Southwest Unitarian Universalist Church, is thinking of getting involved in the future.
“It’s about helping people in need who have very little food to eat. It’s a great idea, and we’re happy to help out,” he said. “And it’s great that it’s not just one church, but it unites the churches and people from all walks of life. It’s helping people in need and forming acquaintances. You never know where those other connections can lead.”
He’s already looking forward to the next one.
So are twin sisters Ann and Barbara Butler, St. Albert parishioners from North Royalton. They summed up the meal best.
“It’s just very important to help other people that need help,” Ann Butler said.
“It’s paying it forward,” Barbara Butler added, “paying it forward.”
A meal a month is planned for the next 12 months. All will be hosted on the last Sunday of the month – May 25, June 29, July 27, Aug. 31, Sept. 28, Oct. 26, Dec. 28, Jan. 25, Feb. 22 and March 29 – and at St. Albert with the exception of October’s meal which will be hosted by St. Paul while St. Albert under goes renovations.
There will be no community meal in November, however, Royal Redeemer will be hosting its annual Care and Share Thanksgiving meal Nov. 27.