When Marcellus' Sarah Cox began researching and planning for the first Loaves and Fishes Community Dinner last April, she admitted she wasn't quite sure what she'd gotten herself into.
"I have no idea what to expect," she said a year ago, as she sought donations from local grocers and tips from like-minded community groups and churches with experience in the free-meal game.
Cox said that first meal drew around 80 people to the dining room at St. John's Episcopal Church, and since then attendance hasn't dipped below 100.
She and the team of dedicated volunteers who spend an entire day each month to prepare a balanced, homemade meal served completely free of charge to anyone who shows up celebrated the dinner's one-year anniversary last week on April 27.
As usual, more than 100 people showed up to enjoy the dinner -- last week's menu included ham and scalloped potatoes, salad, peas and chocolate mousse for dessert -- and more than 30 dinners were delivered to locals who could not make it to the church.
No questions, no strings
The philosophy behind the monthly meal hasn't changed over the last 12 months, and has clearly been embraced by the community. The group's success in providing a hot meal and fellowship to anyone in the community cannot only be measured by the attendance of the monthly event, but also by the complete absence of donation baskets.
From elderly residents to single moms who want a night off from cooking, the meal is always completely free to anyone who wishes to eat.
"No questions asked, no strings attached," Cox said.
Never has the group fundraised or used money from St. John's for the dinner -- it has always been completely funded by donations from local businesses and community members.
She opened the pockets of her apron and pointed to the folded bills inside -- unsolicited offerings from diners. A few minutes later, a man quietly stepped up and slipped another few dollars into the apron, walking away without a word.
The Loaves and Fishes dinner is held the fourth Tuesday of each month at St. John's Episcopal Church on the corner of Maple and Orange streets, Marcellus.
To volunteer or for more information, call the church at 673-2500. The next dinner will be May 25.
In spite of the name, meals do not always consist of seafood and bread. The dinner is named after the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, and a variety of homemade dishes are served.