By Rosanne BowmanLIMA — According the statistical and demographic data put out by the Allen County Department of Jobs and Family Services for 2008 to 2011, 18.8 percent live in poverty and 16.4 percent experience food insecurity. The Department of Jobs and Family Services describes food insecurity as “a condition that arises from lack of money and other resources to acquire food so all household members can lead a healthy, active lifestyle.”Several area churches have stepped up to meet this need by incorporating a community meal. The community meal is usually put on by a church at least once a month to offer a free meal to area residents. The purpose is to not only provide food, but often fellowship, as well. Pandora United Methodist Church started their monthly community meal about two years ago.“It serves a variety of needs,” said the Rev. Duane Kemerley, head pastor at the church. “People who need a free meal find it helpful, but it is also a fellowship meal for those that live alone. It provides general fellowship, and there is a mix of all people so there is not a stigma to attending the meal.”Added Becky Bollinger, coordinator for the community meal at Immanuel United Methodist Church, “We try to fill the need, whatever it is — whether that is to fill up the tummy or the soul.”Pandora United Methodist Church plans their meal strategically for the end of the month, as does Immanuel United Methodist Church. Elm Street Church of the Brethren and Salem Mennonite Church have partnered together to also provide a meal at the end of the month.“We chose the last Thursday of the month,” said Stan Bauman, coordinator for the meal from Salem Mennonite Church, “because the end of the month is generally when people run out of food stamps or money for food.”Trinity United Methodist Church is one of the few area churches who have been offering a community meal for over a decade. They offer breakfast every Sunday morning. “We started out doing it one Sunday a month,” said Jackie Johnson, director of children and family ministries at Trinity United Methodist Church. “But it just kept getting bigger and bigger, and a couple years ago we started doing it every week.”Many of the churches offer more than just a meal. Trinity United Methodist Church begins with a worship and prayer service, and attendees can visit a free store where they can pick up needed personal items or gently used clothing. Immanuel United Methodist Church which has named their community meal Food, Faith and Fun, offers a fun activity after the meal.“We do a variety of things,” Bollinger said. “This month we'll be doing a safety carnival so the kids can get into the fire truck, and we are hoping to have blood pressure checks for people.”Although anyone is welcome to a community meal, most churches see it as a way to reach out to their community outside the church. “By doing this, we fulfill our wider mission of serving others and providing an opportunity for both food and fellowship,” Kemerley said. “We asked how we can be of service to our community, and this meal meets a variety of needs — it's not a soup kitchen.”Added Bollinger, who started the meal at her church, “I just felt God was placing the need for a meal in Elida on my heart, so I went to the pastor. It provides a safe environment to feed not only the body but also the soul.”Most community meals are well attended with churches averaging between 50 and 85 at each meal, and those numbers are growing. “Last month, we had about 125 people show up,” said Randy Pugin, treasurer and coordinator at Elm Street Church of the Brethren.“There is a lot of need in Lima,” Johnson said. “We like to serve the community and people need food. We are seeing a lot more families with children now.”Of course, none of this would happen without the volunteers at each church who not only show up to prepare, serve and clean up the actual meal, but those who also work behind the scenes. “Between our two churches, we usually have between 25 to 30 people volunteer at the meal,” Bauman said, “but we also have people who are purchasing used clothing items or picking up personal care items. We have people who bake a homemade dessert every month. There are lots of people behind the scenes — many are older folks who maybe can't serve the meal but can bring cookies instead.”Community meals provide an important resource for those in need. “They're very helpful,” said Lanora Olivieri, administrative assistant at the West Ohio Food Bank. “There would be a lot of people who would go without eating if places like these didn't put these meals on.” If you have a story idea or an item you feel the community would like to know about for the Religion section, please contact Rosanne Bowman at email@example.com or 419-516-6149.