Lunch at LINK may not seem like the most romantic way to spend Valentine’s Day. But believe it or not, LINK has a long history of sharing the love in Lawrence on Feb. 14.
After all, it was on Valentine’s Day in 1985 that Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen served its first free community meal, to six guests. On Valentine’s Day this year, LINK expects to serve close to 175 people.
If you can help
Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen is as welcoming to new volunteers as it is to new guests. To find out about volunteering, contact Greg Moore, LINK coordinator, at (785) 331-3663 or visit www.linklawrence.com.
But if you’re free for lunch, volunteer Mary Jones has a better idea: “If someone wants to find out more about LINK, they should just come and have lunch with us. We have people who have been serving here for as long as LINK’s been around. These are dedicated folks who are bringing the food, and they can cook!”
As LINK guests thread through the serving line this Valentine’s Day, volunteers will heap their plates with hearty casseroles, steaming hot vegetables, fresh fruit and homemade desserts. Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, one of 46 religious, business or civic groups makes and serves the free lunch in the basement of First Christian Church in downtown Lawrence.
In addition to enjoying a satisfying meal, LINK guests connect with vivacious volunteers such as Mary Jones, president of LINK’s board of directors and its nominee for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer Award. Jones has been helping for almost a decade, and like so many other LINK volunteers, she's hooked for life.
“I go toward people who are in circumstances they don’t have control over,” Jones shares. “I’ve never been extremely rich or anything, but when I was a kid, I never worried about having a home or not having food. There are people who are trying their darndest, but when the money runs out, they don’t have food.”
Hungry children weigh the heaviest on Jones’ mind. So during her tenure as LINK’s president, she plans to visit elementary school counselors to let them know that LINK is a great place for food-insecure families to dine on the weekend, when kids don’t have access to free or reduced-price lunches at school.
“There are so many kids in town who, when they are not in school, don’t get fed very well,” Jones explains. “Previously, I think people thought you only went to LINK if you were homeless, but that’s not even close to how it is. We have a lot of people who are just short on money and like the companionship of the other people who are there. It’s a safe place to come on the weekends for some of the best food in town.”
Volunteers like Jones have kept LINK going for nearly three decades, said Katie Studebaker, past president of the LINK board. “Volunteers are the heartbeat of LINK. We’re 28 years going, with everyone volunteering their efforts, food and money. I don’t know what makes LINK go, but I think it’s the way Lawrence is. Lawrence is a very giving community. If someone is in need, here comes Lawrence, giving and caring.”
The giving and caring often extend beyond the walls of the LINK dining room, into the lives of the people who eat there regularly. Jones and Studebaker like to tell the story of a LINK regular, a homeless man who had his warm clothes stolen. When Jones found out, she worked to make sure he had a coat, hat and gloves. He was so grateful, he started helping out at LINK. Some time later, he decided he was ready to take steps to secure housing.
“When we found out he had a chance to turn his life around – he was tired of being on the streets – we started working to get him resources,” Jones says. “Katie and I put our heads together to see what we could find.”
“We put out an email, and it was like, OK, here it comes! We got him where he was set up and had things for his apartment,” Studebaker says. “To me, that’s just what Lawrence is.”