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  • Lori Dawson and Gayle Stratton

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

As the hour approaches noon, a line forms outside of the kitchen. People of all ages, races, and backgrounds gather to take part in a meal provided by volunteers working with the Free Lunch Program (FLP) of Iowa City and its surrounding communities.

On this day, local members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons) have provided the food and are serving those who are gathered. There’s a flurry of activity as the meal begins and people begin filing through the serving line. The room fills with laughter and conversation as people find seats and share this time with friends and new acquaintances. The lunch hour rolls by quickly and as it draws to a close, over 140 meals have been served. On a hot and humid day like this, a meal and a cool welcoming place to eat it are greatly appreciated. The gratitude of the patrons can be felt in the smiles, laughter, and heartfelt thank you’s that that are generously shared.

Among those serving are Mormon youth, ages 12-18, from the Young Men and Young Women’s programs of the Church.

“This is my second time working here,” says Jonathon Brown. “It’s a humbling experience and makes me grateful for what I have. It makes me want to share that through service and helping in any way I can. “

Matthew Brown is Jonathon’s younger brother, and this was his first experience serving at FLP. “I was a little nervous in the beginning because I’m not a people person, but once we started serving it was fine. It was cool to see the intermixing of people. We’re all from different backgrounds, but we all show up and all start talking to each other.”

The FLP began in January 1983 when two therapists from the Community Mental Health Center began exploring ways to address concerns of some of their clients. When these therapists spoke to a Lenten study group at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish about the need for a daily free meal for members of the Iowa City community, the response was, “Let’s do it!” and the program began. Today there are 35 participating organizations that daily provide an average of 120 warm meals, six days a week.

In 1985, the local Mormon congregation joined with others in the community to serve and has not missed a month since that time. When their service began, there was only one Latter-day Saint congregation in Iowa City. Church members Marsha Paulson Peters and Barbara Lockhart organized the congregation’s participation, and the main dish was prepared in Marsha’s kitchen. Women from the congregation made bread, salads, and desserts to serve 65 and then transported all of the food to the Methodist Wesley Center, where it was served.

On January 1, 2014, the FLP was moved to a beautifully remodeled building located at 1105 Gilbert Court, Iowa City. Although much has changed since 1983, the same spirit of community and sharing that inspired the program’s inception continue.

Currently, there are three Mormon congregations in the Iowa City area that provide food and service to the FLP on the 2ndThursday of every month.

To learn more about the Iowa City Free Lunch Program go to:

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