A satisfying meal fills the stomach.
It’s arguable that a Friday lunch at Our Community Place also nourishes the heart and mind.
Every Friday, Our Community Place, a daytime shelter for the housing insecure, hosts the Friday Lunch Restaurant for both dine in and carryout.
Clients at OCP, called “community members,” can volunteer as servers and bussers at the restaurant, while anyone from the community can dine at the lunch fundraiser.
Diners choose from a menu of entrees, choice of side, dessert and drink. The price is flat at $10 and all proceeds support programming at OCP.
Head chef Timmy Jopling comes up with a new menu each week for the lunch restaurant. The Friday menu has included caprese on house-made flatbread, carne asada tostadas and stuffed summer squash. Dine-in service restarted last month after being on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the Friday Lunch Restaurant, OCP serves two meals per day for the housing insecure. Meals at OCP are run by Kitchen Industries, a program that hires housing-insecure individuals to work in the kitchen.
Almost all the ingredients for the other meals come from donors, including Mercy House and the Friendly City Food Co-op.
“It’s a lot like ‘Chopped,’” Jopling said. “We get a lot of green bean donations so we have to find creative ways to cook those.”
Jopling said some menu items have come from volunteers at OCP. For example, a mushroom-swiss burger was added to the menu because Holly Brimfield, a regular OCP volunteer, came up with the recipe.
“I was about to get kicked out of my apartment,” Brimfield said, reflecting on when she first came to OCP. “I started going to programs, and now I have been volunteering here for three years.”
Brimfield pointed to big bins of watermelon and cantaloupe she was cutting up in the kitchen.
“They call me the salsa queen,” she said. “Because every time I make salsa, we always run out.”
For people who have never interacted with someone who is homeless, going to a shelter for a meal could seem intimidating.
“[Homeless people] are people, too,” said Evelyn Lewis, a rising senior social work major at James Madison University who volunteers at OCP. “[My major] has been really helpful in bring me out of my comfort zone because we are required to volunteer in the community.”
Sam Nickels, executive director of Our Community Place, said that’s one of the driving forces behind the Friday Lunch Restaurant.
“We’ve had lawyers and engineers sitting around at tables with 30 homeless people, and you can’t tell who’s who,” Nickels said, referring to a similar event designed to help people interact at OCP. “It helps people overcome those labels and feel like a part of something. It helps people appreciate each other.”