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Food, fellowship, friendship

Shepherd's Table is a Williamsport staple

Shepherd's Table is a Williamsport staple

November 15, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

WILLIAMSPORT - As the Shepherd's Table nears its eighth anniversary in January, coordinators Bill and Laura Eckard can't help but remember that it all started with a community service project by a teenage Girl Scout.

That Scout was Sara Cline, who said she was the only girl left in her troop at the Wilson Ruritan but nonetheless she had to come up with a community activity to complete her Gold award.

The idea for a free dinner for the Williamsport community came to mind, so Cline and her troop leader and mother, Laura Eckard, got to work on it.

"I did the letter and then I ran a meeting of the church coordinators for the project," Cline said.

At the beginning, Laura Eckard said, her family was attending a different church. After joining Rehoboth, she suggested the soup kitchen idea and the church agreed to host it.

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From that beginning was started the Williamsport soup kitchen, which later took the name Shepherd's Table, now open every Thursday at Rehoboth United Methodist Church at 35 W. Salisbury St. beginning at 5:15 p.m.

The first dinner nearly eight years ago attracted just 13 people, Laura Eckard said.

"Now we average between 75 and 80 people staying to eat and another 50 to 85 coming for takeout," Bill Eckard said. "We don't deliver."

Anyone in the community may take advantage of the free meal and fellowship.

At one time, 11 churches took turns providing the meals and volunteers on a weekly basis. Now that number is down to eight.

Those participating include New Life Christian Church, St. Augustine's Catholic, St. Andrew Presbyterian, Calvary Temple, Downsville Church of the Brethren, Williamsport United Methodist, Zion Lutheran and Rehoboth, which also provides the dining and cooking space as its contribution every week.

The meal is designed to be more than just food, Bill Eckard said. It's also fellowship and getting together with old friends and new.

Some folks show up each week while others pop in occasionally.

"There were some new faces a few weeks ago," Bill Eckard said.

The Rehoboth youth often help at Shepherd's Table. And some volunteers, such as Ken Miller, show up every week.

"I'm the chief coffee maker and I help with the takeouts," Miller said.

He joined when there was a plea for volunteers at his church, St. Augustine's, and he's been volunteering ever since.

Bill Pratt and Linda Norrington come in and cut pastries, set up and then help clean up. Carl Sprankle of New Life Christian is also a regular volunteer.

Sometimes people will come and eat and then get a takeout order for someone they know who can't get out. Often, one member of a couple will come and get two takeouts so they can eat together at home.

The meal is free although donations are accepted. Money that is donated by the Williamsport Ministerium churches is used to buy coffee, hot chocolate, plates, cups and other necessities.

Some businesses, such as The Cookie Jar on Pennsylvania Avenue, and Food Lion on Wilson Boulevard, are regular contributors.

Often the Food Lion contribution is one or even two grocery carts filled with bakery and deli items each week.

"We might have another church on board soon, one that had been with us before," said Laura Eckard.

While that will help the overall picture, she said no one has ever left the Shepherd's Table still hungry. "We go on faith so we'll never turn anyone away."




Holiday schedule



The Shepherd's Table will not be open on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23.

A Thanksgiving Day dinner will be served from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. at Williamsport United Methodist Church.

In December, the Shepherd's Table will be closed Dec. 21 and 28.

A Christmas Day dinner will be served at The Shepherd's Table from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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