The Newark Free Lunch program in the basement of the Emmanuel United Methodist Church, 301 E. Miller St., has a long history of providing home-cooked meals to those in need.
The program started in 1993 with Art and Elsie Deys having a vision of providing a free Thanksgiving dinner. It developed into serving warm lunches on Tuesdays-Fridays. Over the years, 40-50 people have been hosted daily, with numbers increasing in fall and winter.
With the coronavirus pandemic, the church dining room was forced to close and a grab-and-go program was instituted with lunches handed out at the church door. The daily count of people requesting help grew to 120-plus daily. Monthly totals went from an average of 600 a month to 1,900 in April.
“These numbers have devastated our budget and we need some financial help,” managers Manny and Alice Crespo said.
A request for donations went out in late April and led to an outpouring of support from several communities. Volunteers also worked to keep the program on track. Two teams of four volunteers work two days a week making sandwiches and assembling lunch boxes. Another volunteer hands out the meals at the door.
In May, 2,281 lunches were handed out. This was made possible through financial gifts from churches, service organizations and individuals. Food donations came from area farmers, Wegmans, Walmart and grants from Foodlink. Local businesses provided discounts and donations.
“We are truly grateful to have had such overwhelming support for our request for help,” the Crespos said. “It is over and above anything we expected. Newark is a very caring community.”