A bit more elegance in service at the Diner

Brett Pennington, on staff at The Lord’s Diner, peers into the Diner’s dishwashing machine that is getting much more of a workout now that the food ministry has shifted to serving primarily on plates. More volunteers are still needed as a result. (Advance photo)

The sabbatical is over for the dishwashing machine at The Lord’s Diner’s downtown location.

Sarah Hoffman, the director of Communications and PR for the Diner, said the food ministry made a transition on Monday, Jan. 15, from serving in disposable containers to the use of plates and silverware.

The Covid pandemic caused the employees and volunteers at The Lord’s Diner to switch from plates and silverware to serving food in foam containers.

A little more dignity

“Returning to real dishes allows us to serve a meal in an environment that speaks to the person’s dignity,” she said. The transition went smoothly. “We were a little concerned about the logistics…but we have been preparing for this for almost four years – since Covid forced us to begin serving to-go meals.”

Hoffman said decisions at The Lord’s Diner are always made keeping Bishop Eugene J. Gerber’s original vision in mind. “He wanted to create a space for anyone to gather around a warm meal, build community, and share life. We want to continue that even though it looks a little different than it did in 2002.” COVID gave The Diner a new perspective. “It taught us that there’s dignity in choice so we’re allowing our guests to have a to-go option. About 25 percent of our guests are still taking it to go.”

Guests react to the change

The guests are enjoying the shift to real dishes, especially during this cold weather.

“It’s nice to have an actual mug to drink coffee from — not a paper cup — and eat with real silverware,” Hoffman said. “There is a real difference in that and we are communicating to them that they are worth more than a disposable tray.” One guest, she said, spoke to the change when he shared, “For a little while I didn’t feel homeless… I felt like somebody.”

Volunteers learning, needed

In making this switch, the biggest logistical hurdle was the number of volunteers needed, she said.

“It isn’t exactly like it was pre-Covid. We’ve had to change some things in terms of logistics just because we do have fewer volunteers than we used to.”

Some of the volunteers are pre-Covid veterans and remembered service before the pandemic, Hoffman said, but many had only been assisting at The Diner since it adopted the to-go container service. But with the new process “everyone is learning this new way, our staff, our volunteers, and even our guests are learning and experiencing this in a new light.”

Serving Jesus

“Volunteering at The Lord’s Diner is an opportunity for people to dive deeper into the call of service to God and one another,” Hoffman said. “We are so grateful for the volunteers who have stepped up to serve, and I really encourage anyone who has thought about volunteering with us to try it out.”

The ministry serves 365 days a year so the need for volunteers is constant. Small volunteer groups are still needed at both the Broadway and Hillside locations. To help fill these needs, contact The Lord’s Diner Volunteer Coordinator, Mary Claire Heimerman, at [email protected].