Expanding a School Partnership through Community Dinners

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For the past 20 years, First United Methodist Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been in a partnership with the Eugene Field Elementary School. About ten years ago, the school announced it was going to become a “community school” that attempted to serve the whole child by expanding the focus beyond academics to include a wide range of health and social services, youth and community development, and real-world learning. First Methodist eagerly embraced this idea as a way of expanding the impact of our school partnership into the broader community.

It is a social and spiritual event, far more than a feeding event. Those who have volunteered for this ministry have told me repeatedly that they receive even more than they give.

We recognized that the Eugene Field students had a serious hunger problem. Many of the parents were on welfare, and they often struggled to put even a basic meal on the table for their children. So we stepped up to sponsor a free community dinner at the end of each month, which was the time food stamps ran out, family funds had been spent, and the need for food was the greatest.

The last Friday of every month, the members of First United Methodist began to invade the Eugene Field campus with food! Not only did they provide the food and serve the meals, but they also spent time listening to those who came and volunteered to pray for those who expressed a willingness to receive prayer.

The event now involves 200-400 people. It is a mainstay community-involvement event in the community. It is a social and spiritual event, far more than a feeding event. Bingo is now played after dinner. The prizes are household items — from food to large jigsaw puzzles to diapers to cleaning supplies to paper goods. Various school choirs perform during dinner. Those who have volunteered for this ministry have told me repeatedly that they receive even more than they give.

The community school initiative also led to a First Church member establishing Global Gardens, a community garden, and another member opening a low-cost food market, and also a home repair project for the benefit of the Eugene Field community. It is an active example of church, school, and community coming together.


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About Author

Dr. Connie J. Cole Jeske is executive minister at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


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