DALLAS -- James2 Community Kitchen is serving five times the number of people it fed at its first meal in the spring of 2009.
Organizers couldn't be happier.
In fact, they are looking for ways to expand the program even more.
When the small organization -- really a group of friends -- began serving meals in the spring of 2009, the goal was to eventually serve meals a few times a week.
They began with twice a month and later the program expanded to weekly on Tuesdays at Dallas United Methodist Church, 565 SE LaCreole Drive.
John Stein, director of James2, said the goal was for people not to feel like they were going to a soup kitchen.
"We want to do this with as much dignity as we can," he said. "We treat people like they want to be treated."
It seems that they have achieved that goal.
People are not waiting in line for food at James2, but seated at tables and served by volunteers. People are seated as quickly as possible and are fed, no questions asked.
The atmosphere is light and the dining room and kitchen are filled with laughter. Volunteers carry trays holding soup, bread and fruit out to tables with a smile.
The cheery mood at the church make Tuesday evenings
at Dallas United Methodist feel like a family gathering, a place that nourishes a community along with filling bellies.
In recent weeks, James2 has served more than 250 meals every Tuesday, either to people eating at the site or picking up dinners. In comparison, the first dinner on March 31, 2009, served 45 people.
Betty Krebs-Brennan, the manager of the Dallas Food Bank, said in many cases it's the nonjudgmental attitude that makes people feel welcome.
"They don't ask you questions except `What do you want to drink?'" she said.
Sue Lamb, the organization's finance director, said she has seen people form friendships after meeting at the dinners. She believes that is part of the program's success.
"I think that's why it works, because of that," Lamb said.
Whatever the reason, the meal site is busting at the seams each Tuesday.
Dallas resident Angela Kunz said a trip to James2 has become a weekly outing for her family. She said the meals provide much needed help for families and individuals still struggling to make ends meet.
"I think it's an awesome thing," Kunz said. "The way the economy is right now, any little thing helps."
Meal nights now offer more than just dinners.
Other individuals or organizations have begun to set up during meal hours, offering clothing, children's books and even hair cuts.
On Nov. 16, local hair stylist Bobbi Bault offered free hair cuts. Bault, who runs a shop in Dallas, said kitchen organizers called her to see if she would provide hair cuts at the meals. Bault said she would at least attend another dinner.
"This is part of my personal outreach," she said.
Bambinos, a Dallas nonprofit that assists lower income families with children, has set up a booth at the church during kitchen hours as well.
Beth Jones, Bambinos director, said the kitchen and her organization serve many of the same people. Having a booth at the meals allows her to make contact with more families.
"This is a time-efficient way to meet the need," Jones said. "Now we have an opportunity to come together to serve a greater need."
Stein noted that Dallas United Methodist Church allows James2 to use its kitchen, provide seating in an adjacent room, and the use of its plates and utensils.
"It wouldn't be possible without the church," Stein said.
But it is apparent that James2 will outgrow the space, both in the numbers of people showing up and the frequency organizers would like to host meals: three times a week.
James2 is working with the city of Dallas and Marion-Polk Food Share to apply for a community development block grant to purchase a facility that could be used for a meal site and storage space for MPFS.
For now, though, James2 is happy to serve whoever comes through the door.
"They will do their best to get you a spot," Kunz said. "They don't turn anyone away."
Need a Meal?
James2 Community Kitchen meals.
Dallas United Methodist Church, 565 SE LaCreole Drive.
Every Tuesday from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
James2 can typically keep the cost of each meal below $1, however donations are needed and welcome. Volunteers also are needed.
For more information:
To donate or volunteer, 503-851-5918 or 503-508-8421; www.james2ck.org.