In a small town in Tennessee on the last Tuesday of every month, something good is being served up. It's a heaping plate of comfort. A spoon full of sugar. A ladle full of love that melts in your mouth like sweet creamery butter. What is it?
It's called the Lunch Bunch.
It started 8 years ago by two sisters: Jean and Joyce. They decided to cook a southern style dinner at lunchtime for anyone in the community who would like to come. "At first,” Jean told me, "there were just a few of us. But over time, little by little, it kept growing.”
As I stood in line, with my styrofoam plate in hand, construction workers covered in sawdust and paint waited their turn. Along with them waited high school teachers, the post master of the tiny hundred year old post office of the town, local pastors (male and female), stay at home moms, city officials, republicans, democrats, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and non church go'ers alike. People of different economic, social, political, and even ethnic backgrounds came together for a steaming plate of community and a side of mashed potatoes (with extra butter).
I asked the sisters how word got it. "Word of mouth.” They said. "People started talking about it in the community and the next thing you know, we had, sometimes, a hundred people coming.”
When you stand before the feast that these two ladies prepare each month, it’s hard to contain the feeling of joy. Every dish prepared from scratch, pies with homemade crust, nothing from a can, everything done the old fashioned way.
It tastes like coming home. You can taste your mama's love in every heapin spoonful.
I asked the sisters how long it took for them to cook such a meal. "It takes 3 days. We cook straight for 3 days to get it all ready."
Jean and Joyce stand at the end of the line during every lunch bunch to make sure each person has all the food they want and don't forget the drink. As I reached the front of the line, Jean put a hand on my shoulder and said "Make sure you get you some sweet tea.” I just wanted to reach out and give her the biggest hug. They make me and everyone that comes to Lunch Bunch feel at home.
I asked the sisters about the cost they must cover to make the enormous meal. "There is a donation jar. People give what they can, but it's not required."
I see a large mason jar in the back of the room, out of the way, leaning behind the sweet tea pitcher. You would have to go looking for it to make a donation. It’s clear that these ladies aren't worried about the money.
"Anyone can come, we have to-go containers. We take plates to shut-ins and the elderly in the community. We always tell people to bring a friend. Everyone is welcome."
As I look around the room, you can literally feel a sense of kinship with each person there. I guess there is something about food that brings people together.
As I think of my own life and how much of an effort it is to make meals for my family every day, I feel inspired by these two sisters and the enormous amount of love and sacrifice that goes into every day, every hour, and every minute they have spent for the last 8 years cooking, hosting, and cleaning for the Lunch Bunch.
It is inspiring to think that something so simple as a home-cooked meal could do so much good. Here in our world that seems to be ravaged by cynicism and division, there are still ways to bring people together.
Who knew fried chicken and buttermilk pie could reach so far down into people's hearts and do something that almost seems miraculous in today's times: Make people believe that there is still goodness in the world, and that there are still people who are willing to welcome anyone who will come to the table.
Let us follow their example, in anyway and anywhere our hearts lead us to.
Thank you Jean and Joyce.
The world is a little sweeter because of you.