Free breakfast returns to dine-in at downtown Chatham church

After three years of offering a free takeout breakfast, the team of volunteers at a downtown Chatham church are getting back into the routine of serving guests in-person.

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“It’s actually quite wonderful,” said First Presbyterian Church Pastor Mike Maroney of welcoming guests back for a sit down meal on Saturday mornings.

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The pastor and the team of volunteers agree “there’s just more dignity in coming in and sitting down with other people,” he added.

With the cold weather arriving, Maroney said, “It’s so much nicer they can come in have a coffee. . . then have a meal.”

In-person dining began again on Nov. 5 with about 50 people showing up. The number has risen over the last two Saturdays, but Maroney said the crowd is still not at the 180 takeout meals routinely served during the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted the change, or on a busy Saturday prior to that.

It has taken some work to get back to an in-dining operation.

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“There’s a bunch of volunteers who did an incredible amount of work,” Maroney said.

This included washing everything from cutlery to cups that had been sitting there for three years, he said.

Volunteer co-ordinator Rebecca Ladd also had to arrange for more volunteers to serve in-person.

Now that volunteers are serving guests as well as cleaning up and doing dishes, Maroney said, “It took us some retooling to get us back to that place that we were three years ago.”

The offerings for the meal are also coming back in stages.

Maroney said they used to have four different menus through the month, but for now they are sticking with the most popular menu the egg frittata meal, which was also the easiest to prepare for takeout.

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“But, as we get used to the routine, we’ll start to re-introduce the different menus on subsequent Saturdays,” he said.

This includes French toast with sausage and pancakes, along with cereals and oatmeal, he added.

Maroney said guests have been informed the weekly breakfast is moving back to dine-in.

“It’s really meant to be a more social and fuller meal,” he said.

Although it is unfortunate families are hurting and need food assistance, Maroney said it is “heartwarming” to see guests, especially families sitting down with other people.

First Presbyterian Church has been offering free breakfast for about 20 years. However, Maroney said the program is feeling the impact of higher food prices. He said they still solicit donations and apply for grants to help with the funds set aside by the church to provide the weekly community meal.

Breakfast will be served from 9:30 am to 11 am on Saturdays with entrance to the church basement off of Fifth Street in downtown Chatham.

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