Since April 4 of 2017, Trinity UMC has been acting as a satellite campus for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) and serving home cooked meals prepared by the Muslim Center of Princeton.
Shaesta Chaudhry, a volunteer with the group, running programs in Trenton, Hightstown, and Freehold in addition to Bordentown, helped launch the satellite soup kitchen at Trinity along with the church’s hospitality team.
The two groups were introduced by TASK after church members reached out to the organization to learn how they could convert their fellowship hall into a place to feed the hungry.
“A community program like ours, involving Christian, Muslim and secular volunteers, sends a simple yet very clear message: hunger has no religion, and strangers are the friends we haven’t met yet,” said Rev. Thomas Miller, Trinity’s senior pastor.
According to Chaudhry, the meals are made with the same quality food that volunteers would eat at home with their own families. It started with one meeting after church when the hospitality team got together to address one simple question: how can we serve the community around us?
Ryan Forbeck was at that meeting. Since October of 2016, he had been attending Trinity and was moved by one of Rev. Miller’s sermons about using talents to serve God and the community. He was drawn to the church’s hospitality team and found himself around a table with church members Elyse Carty, Diane Moretz and Rev. Miller.
“God’s hand was in this the whole time,” said Ryan. The second Tuesday in operation, the newfound outreach received a $1,000 donation from the former Bordentown mayor, Joe Malone.
“And from there, the donations started coming in,” exclaimed Pastor Miller. From partnerships with ACME, Wawa, a local deli and Bordentown Bagels, a momentum began building not only among church volunteers but local businesses, community members, high school students and college students seeking resume experience, and leadership skills and interfaith interaction.
“The most exciting part, as a pastor, was seeing no resistance to opening Trinity up to strangers,” said Pastor Miller. “The response makes me praise God. It’s been one of the most exciting ministries in my pastoral career.” Since that April of 2017, over 17,000 meals have been served.Approximately 80% are take-outs to six local motels and several other groups in need each Tuesday evening.
“The experience is really hard to put into words,” Ryan said. “We knock on the doors, and some of the people want us to come inside and pray with them. Others just quietly thank us for the meals and close their doors. All are extremely grateful, and there are a lot of people who want to talk and connect.” “It makes me look at my life differently,” he said. “I’m more grateful, and my eyes have been open to how big of a need it is just to feed people. And that’s just the beginning.”
For many, the experience has been extremely rewarding.The outreach has a core group of leaders but has seen more than 40 people step up to volunteer.
Shaesta’s mosque congregation donates much of the food for Trinity’s distribution. Volunteers sit with visitors while they eat to make them feel welcome. For many of those involved, it has been a gratifying thing to see
Christians working alongside Muslims.
Those from the church, the mosque, and TASK, each play a vital part in making the Tuesday night outreach possible. “Without the conjoined teamwork it wouldn’t happen,” said Ryan. “It sends a message to the community that we’re all just people; that we’re all the same inside.”
For Diane, delivering that message in action has been “inspirational.” “Seeing all of these different people coming together and earnestly working to help out and observing their compassion has really opened my eyes,” she said. “My opinion of people has changed, I can’t even express my feelings. People are
not only helping those in need, they want to help each other. Their hearts are opening more and more to the people around them. It’s just amazing when you see how many people care.”
As one of Trinity’s Certified Lay Speakers, Diane has faithfully involved herself in the church since 1997, but now she has loved witnessing a hands-on mission revival with the Tuesday night ministry.
Pastor Miller described an instance when a woman stepped off the local River Line with three children and entered Trinity on a Tuesday night, seeking escape from a broken home situation.“Everyone sat and prayed with her, fed the children, and provided them with clothes.”
Needing a place to stay, it only took a few minutes for volunteers to pull together resources to fund a motel room covering several nights.
“It’s a mission station around here,” said an elated Pastor Miller, who defined the ministry as “working like a clock.”
Elyse, who has always loved feeding people, beleives that the ministry has fulfilled a new purpose for her. “I knew something was missing, and it just all fell into place,” she said.
“It was definitely Spirit led. It’s encouraging to those of us involved to see what can be done when people work together. And I think that’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen: different people so happy to work together; laughing, teasing each other, and coming together. You can just feel the energy in this place.”
Some Tuesdays, Elyse and Shaesta wonder if they’re going to have enough food.
“And yet we always do,” said Elyse. “It’s loaves and fishes around here. Always more than enough.” Diane shared a moment when a stranger brought a struggling family to the church after discovering them sifting through an Aldi
parking lot dumpster. “They were overwhelmed by the love,” she said. “I remember leaving that night with such a great sense that those people were well taken care of.”
Pastor-supported, and lay-led, Trinity plans to budget the outreach into the church’s mission program now that it is an entity in the community.
“It’s easy to be invisible to a community if you’re not doing something tangible and relevant,” said Miller. “The practical theological message here is clear: God loves you, and so do we.” For Trinity, The Muslim Center of Princeton and TASK the sustainability and momentum is an encouragement as they continue the outreach one week at a time.
“Only God knows its future,” said Shaesta, “And if it expands, the mosque will always be there to help.” Pastor Miller sees the movement as an example of a great need for social services, both religious and secular, working together
outside of current “silos” of effectiveness.
“It’s pleasing that people of two different world religions are working together,” he said. “It’s a voice of sanity in the midst of insanity, and sends the right message during these troubled times when many people are losing hope.”
Along with the volunteers playing their vital roll in this ministry is
Under Janice Jobes’ leadership, Trinity’s Treasures is always prepared to help families and individuals in need when they often need it most.
With little or no notice, they have always been there to assist people who have come to the community dinner but often needing more than just a warm meal.
If you haven’t visited the 2nd floor of the educational building, you’re in for a surprise. Four rooms of meticulously folded and sorted clothing for all ages and sizes, games, accessories, you name it.
In addition to being able to provide regular funds for the church from the monthly Saturday sale open to the public, they also provide clothing to those in need at no cost.