By Erik Alsgaard
It’s not every day that the president of the United States comes to your church and serves dinner. But that’s exactly what happened the day before Thanksgiving at St. Luke’s Mission Center, part of the multi-site ministry of Metropolitan Memorial UMC in Washington, D.C.
As cameras recorded his every move, President Barack Obama served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to military veterans as part of the feeding ministry at St. Luke’s. He was joined by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, and the First Lady’s mother, Marian Robinson. Other guests and extended family members, numbering about 30 people, also attended.
“The ‘Feast with Friends,’ as the event was called, was for veterans, their families and formerly homeless participants in Friendship Place’s Veterans First program,” said the Rev. Dottie Yunger, lead pastor at the Mission Center since July 1, 2013.
The food for the meal was provided by Campus Kitchen, an organization run out of St. Luke’s for the past three years. It is part of a national organization that utilizes volunteers, especially college students, to recover food from local restaurants, grocery stores
Friendship Place is a non-profit organization that is working to end homelessness in the District, Yunger said. Its administrative offices are housed at St. Luke’s. Friendship Place also has a welcome center on Wisconsin Avenue, near the Tenley Metro, and Campus Kitchen provides lunch there every day.
Not a lot of people know about the ministry of Campus
The visit also highlighted the plight of veterans in Washington. “One out of four homeless persons in the District is a veteran,” said Yunger.
The congregation at St. Luke’s merged with Metropolitan Memorial UMC about eight or nine years ago. Since becoming a Mission Center, its focus is on serving the community. That’s how it came to house Campus Kitchen, which is reaching out across the city to bring food abundance to what Yunger calls “food deserts.”
In fact, most of the meals are served outside the Mission Center. Meals are usually delivered to where they are needed, such as Mt. Vernon UMC in Ward 7 in the District, where they provide lunch and dinner on Wednesdays, and lunch on Saturdays.
“We partner with congregations who are the presence in their neighborhoods,” Yunger said. “They open their doors and serve the meal.”
Another example is at Hughes Memorial UMC in Washington. On Tuesday nights, the church hosts a community anti-violence program which consists of dinner and a mentoring/tutoring program for youth in the neighborhood.
“We started partnering with them,” said
It’s all meant to provide a safe place for the kids on a weeknight, she said, along with a wholesome delicious meal.
“Those kids are now starting to come to that church on Sunday morning,” she added. “The kids know that this is the safe place to go if I need dinner or I need help with my homework; if I need to get off the street and out of the violence, I go to the church. And they’re joining the church because of it.”
On the day of the president’s visit,
Friendship Place leaders reached out to the First Lady to see if she would be interested in coming to lunch, Yunger said. They also asked Campus Kitchen to make the meal.
On the Friday night before Thanksgiving, the White House called Friendship Place and said, “Mrs. Obama is not coming for lunch on Wednesday. Instead, the whole First Family is coming for dinner with 30 guests and relatives who are in town for Thanksgiving,” Yunger said.
Friendship Place then called Campus Kitchen, asking if they could provide both lunch and a dinner. And those 30 guests who are coming? They wanted to do a service project while the First Family served dinner.
Lunch was served as per usual on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,
“Before the dinner,”
Some of the folks,
“All of a sudden, President Obama and Mrs. Obama… walked in the room. Immediately, the 60 or so veterans and their families, plus all of the staff and volunteers, were up on their feet applauding.”
The president served the turkey; the First Lady served the vegetables, Yunger said.
“She was very excited to hear how our Campus Kitchen works,” Yunger said.
The First Family was extremely gracious to everyone who came through the line, Yunger said. The president thanked each veteran for their service and inquired as to how they were doing.
The guests and family members packed bags with snacks, toiletries and other items for a street outreach effort of St. Luke’s, Yunger said. The bags are part of their “Grate Patrol” program in partnership with the Salvation Army, who delivers the bags to people living on the streets.
At the end of the meal,
“He walked right up to us, introduced himself, shook our hands and asked us what our names were,” said Yunger. “For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what my name was.”
Eventually, her nerves calmed down and she could recall her name, and
“The energy and the enthusiasm and the excitement that was in the room when the president and his family were there,” said