When deciding what to eat for lunch on a Tuesday in Whitewater, there are many different choices available to choose. From McDonald’s to Culvers or Fat Jacks, to any of the other restaurants in town, the options are there. But for some people in Whitewater, those options and the others in town cost money that they can’t afford all the time. For these same people there is another option; the First United Methodist Church Free Lunch.
Every Tuesday, students from UW-Whitewater or just people from the surrounding Whitewater community file into the rooms under the sanctuary to enjoy the free lunch that the church offers to them. The lunch starts at 10:30 a.m. and goes until 1:00 p.m. and the volunteers can feed a number of people in that amount of time.
“We’ve had as many as 400,” said Terrie Parenteau, a volunteer at the church who has been helping out with the lunch in some way since its inception. “I would say six-seven years ago, and it started to decrease and now it’s back to almost 300 and we’re hoping it’ll keep increasing.”
The Free Lunch has been happening for 20 years now, but had started with a handful originally.
“We had identified need on campus,” said Parenteau. “It was just one of these things that we knew there was a need and it grew. I sent the first kids here. They were kind enough to come to the first one, that was a handful of them.”
For the people that come to the free lunch every week, they don’t have to be university students, or church members or anything of the sort.
“It’s great. We get all ages, we have little kids sometimes,” said Parenteau. “This is not just for the university, it’s open to everyone. This is a secular thing, meaning there’s nobody preaching at you or anything.”
For students and community, the free lunch is something to look towards and appreciate the work put into it.
“Its fun to have a free lunch every Tuesday and look forward to it,” said Rachel Butterflied, a senior at UW-Whitewater. “Its pretty cool that these people host it every single Tuesday, it must take a lot to set up an entire lunch for a ton of campus students.”
“I’m appreciative of everything they do,” said senior Tyler Obradovich. “It’s really cool because they definitely enjoy having us here. They truly want everyone to enjoy themselves.”
While the lunch does get a grant from the university, most of their funding comes from donations.
“It’s really by the seat of your pants, grace of God, whatever you want to call it,” said Parenteau. “We get a lot of donations. That’s how we stay rolling. That’s how we stay with it.”
and while the volunteers and organizers try to get more and more people to come to the lunch every week, it’s not out of some agenda.
“This is part of our idea of university ministry. This is what we do,” said Parenteau. “You guys have enough on your hands without having people with agendas offering you free things. That’s just not how this works.”
The food offered changes from week to week, ranging from things like lasagna, to tacos, to grilled cheese and many other meals. The lunch also offers vegetarian alternatives when it can.
The lunches are held every Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church at 145 S Prairie St.