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Couple makes feeding community a mission

October 02, 2007|By JANET HEIM

WILLIAMSPORT - Bill and Laura Eckard are a couple on a mission - literally.

For nine years, they have coordinated a weekly community meal from the basement of their Williamsport church.

The idea came from a Hagerstown church they attended that had a similar ministry. When the Eckards became members at Rehoboth United Methodist Church in Williamsport, Laura Eckard wanted to start a meal ministry there.

The Eckards said the pastor and ministerium at Rehoboth were mission-minded like the couple and supported their idea.

They have a son, a daughter and two grandchildren, are going on their seventh year as volunteers with the Appalachian Service Project, through which they help repair homes in the Appalachian region. They also helped with the REACH Cold Weather shelter the first 10 years it was open, until last year.

As the Eckards' daughter, Sara "Sadie" Cline, considered options for her Gold project for Girl Scouts, she decided to start a weekly community meal, which was named The Shepherd's Table. Sara was a senior at Clear Spring High School at the time.

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For the first year, Sara contacted local churches to provide food and servers on a rotating basis. She also called grocery stores and bakeries about donating day-old products and organized the initial meeting.

The first week, 13 people came to the dinner. Nine years later, average attendance is 150 for eat-in and take-out meals, the Eckards said.

Once Sara, who married Billy Fox in July, completed the requirements for her Gold project, her parents took over as coordinators. Sara still helps occasionally.

The Eckards' commitment to the project has never wavered.

"This is part of our life," said Bill Eckard, 51, a cabinetmaker at Statton Furniture.

"That's what we feel God has given us as a gift. This is just what we do," said Laura Eckard, 52, a credit management representative at Citibank.

The couple, who lives between Clear Spring and Huyetts Crossroads, buys the paper products and extra food and drinks as backup. They schedule the churches and do any other paperwork required.

Bill Eckard also picks up day-old, donated baked goods from Sanders' Cookie Jar Bakery, Krumpe's Do-nuts and Food Lion on Wilson Boulevard.

There are eight churches who take turns preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals.

"We feel blessed getting whatever we get. Sometimes, it seems like it's not enough, then in come donations. God always comes through," Laura Eckard said.

The Shepherd's Table meal is served every Thursday from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m.

Bill starts setting up about 4:15 p.m. After everything is cleaned up about 7 p.m., the Eckards head home and unwind with a simple meal.

They used to eat at the community meal when it was smaller, but are too busy to take the time now, they said.

"Coming in here on Thursday nights, if you're having a bad day, you come in here and it picks you up," Bill Eckard said.

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