Meals for the hungry group going on six years of service
As a community with close to 20 percent of the population below the poverty level, eight percent higher than the state average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, winter can be a difficult time for some families in Rhinelander.
This year, one organization, called Meals for the Hungry, will be celebrating six years of service to those in need.
Meals for the Hungry is run through the Church of Christ, near Hodag Park. The church members donate their time and money to cook and serve a meal every Friday for whoever is hungry.
But Lynn Laakso, who started and runs the service every week, says there’s more to the program then just giving food to those who could use a meal.
“Besides a place to get a meal, it’s a place to get together in friendship,” Laakso said.
Laakso started the event with his wife Cher, who had the idea to start this type of program after visiting the Salvation Army in Wausau.
“I came back and decided it was something we needed to have,” Cher said.
Cher also does crafts with some of the people that come, providing materials to make things like Christmas cards and decorations for the holiday season.
The group started in the downtown area, but moved to the current Church of Christ building about two years ago.
Over the past six years, Meals for the Hungry has served approximately 15,000 meals to people in need.
“For the most part we’re self-sustaining,” Laakso said. “We put up our own money for supplies, but we can always use donations.”
On average the staff receive 50 people every Friday.
“The hardest thing is knowing how many people to cook for,” Laakso said. “Sometimes it’s 35 people, sometimes it’s 75.”
The most the group has ever had come to a single meal was 85 people in July of their second year.
Church members make up the majority of the workers, though Laakso said they welcome any kind of involvement. They have one regular worker who does not belong to the church, and a few years ago Laakso said they had involvement from the Rhinelander High School Honor Society.
Deseriee Vorisek said she just started coming last year—she brings her mother from a nearby nursing home so she can interact with the people there.
“She likes to enjoy the fellowship,” Vorisek said. “God has blessed us all, getting to meet a lot of new people.”
Adam Stanislav, on the other hand, has been coming for years, since before the group moved from downtown.
“It’s very nice of them, the food is great,” Stanislav said.
Due to a physical handicap, Stanislav is unable to drive, but he said people from the church give him a ride to and from the meals, and even sent a moving party from the church to help him switch apartments.
“I like these people,” he said. “They’re good people.”
“It’s something I felt was needed,” said Mary Monk, who has worked with the group since day one. “It’s just a no-brainer. I think there needs to be more of this—people helping people.”
For more information about Meals for the Hungry, contact Lynn Laakso at (715) 362-8947.