FARMINGTON — As promised, the Old South First Congregational Church has relaunched its Supper Club after a six-week hiatus in response to rising COVID-19 cases. The church’s initiative to offer the community a free weekly meal came to a halt so new safety methods could be implemented for both patrons and volunteers, primarily consisting of youth group members.

Director of Children and Youth Ministries Jodie Gunther said dinners have been moved from Tuesday to Sunday from 5 to 6 p.m. The schedule change was made to accommodate youth volunteers, many of whom are busy with Nordic ski practice during the week.

The Supper Club was established by the Old South First Congregational Church’s youth group in May 2020, serving free dinners Tuesdays. The club took a six-week break to implement new safety procedures as COVID-19 cases have surged. Meals are now served Sundays from 5 to 6 p.m. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal file photo

Service is completely contactless and patrons can either enter the church to pick up prepacked meals or use the curbside option by calling (207) 778-4438 upon arrival.

“Patrons park in one of six designated slots in the parking lot on the south side of the church (the lot adjacent to Depot Street). On Sunday nights, we have signs up with instructions and a phone number for the church kitchen,” Gunther said in an email. “When patrons arrive, they call the church kitchen phone to let us know which parking slot they are in. Youth Group members then bring the bags to their cars (patrons can open their trunks in advance, so we can just drop the dinners in, contact-free.”

Supper Club has also implemented an online ordering system in which the church will email a Google form with the Sunday menu. Patrons choose the number of meals they would like, selecting from three entrée options and several side dishes and the youth group will prepack the online submissions.

“I have learned how to organize a ton of bags into a small room!” 13-year-old volunteer Addie Colello said in an email.

The new system has also increased the safety for the 15 youth group volunteers by minimizing their contact with the club’s other volunteers, Stan Wheeler, Anne Wehrman and Dick Giard, who help Gunther with the bulk of meal preparation Sunday mornings.

“We cook on Sunday morning, the three of us and then Jodie takes over the kitchen after we’re done and does her thing for the rest of the day and then the kids come in probably at 2 or so,” Wheeler said. “We haven’t seen the kids in this new iteration.”

Under Gunther’s guidance, the young volunteers organize and package meals and carry out any last-minute work such as washing salad greens and cutting brownies.

“The students are so efficient now that they can easily bag 80 or 90 meals in an hour,” Gunther wrote.

Youth Group member Clayton McCarthy places a Supper Club dinner order on the pickup table in May 2020. Submitted photo

The Supper Club served 70 takeout meals during its first relaunch Jan. 3, which pleased Gunther considering the new system and schedule. Before the club took a break in late November, it was averaging 130 meals a week.

Gunther said a priority of Supper Club is to remove the stigma from seeking help, a value also shared by the Saint Joseph Parish food pantry in Farmington.

“I should note that the name Supper Club was to play off the glamorous old Supper Clubs of the 1940s and ’50s, with movie stars and singers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin,” Gunther wrote. “When we started Supper Club last summer, we used a lot of black-and-white movie star images and Hollywood-style fonts to keep the project fun and lighthearted. Essentially, the goal has been to make obtaining a free dinner feel as upscale as possible.”

The project has also impacted the well-being of the youth volunteers who have seen less and less of their peers in the past year as schools have conducted hybrid classes and faced numerous shutdowns during COVID-19 outbreaks.

“I participate because it makes me feel so happy to be helping the community,” Colello wrote. “I also get to spend some time with people I don’t see in school! My favorite part is packing up the food and giving it to people. I love being able to do something for our community. Supper Club is always the highlight of my week!”

Gunther said that spirits remain high despite the limited social opportunities for youth during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has been hard on students, of course. Every member of the youth group has lost opportunities this year in music, sports, theater, or other activities that are important to them. They don’t complain about it, but I know they feel a lot of disappointment,” Gunther wrote. “I think they are drawn to the Supper Club because it provides them with the opportunity to do something positive for the community. After all, when the world is in a dark place, it should be the role of churches to bring light, and hope, back into the world.”

The Old South First Congregational Church is at 227 Main St. in Farmington. To receive more information about Supper Club and to sign up to receive weekly Supper Club menus, email [email protected]

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