Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Food Ministry at Church (guest post)

This is from Kathy, one of our regular readers here at Offering Hospitality


I've been Meals Coordinator (at a number of churches) for families' needs: this might be after a baby is born, when there is significant illness, just before or after a funeral or a family move, for a chronic situation (such as ongoing medical crisis), etc. I developed a brief written questionnaire, asking them to fill this out in advance, when possible (new baby coming). I kept a file on each family we served, having asked these questions:

1) General part of town you live in (to minimize, when possible, the cooks having to drive from the far SW side of town, thru traffic, to the far NE side of town ...) This general area (and any unusual food needs, such as gluten free) is posted in the request for volunteer cooks, so they can calculate if they can do this.
a) address -- including landmarks and color of house;
b) Home and cell phone numbers; which one is better to use?
c) Email address (optional), IF checked daily

2) Food preferences are huge. I did a mini interview with the family, to assess these points:
a) Food allergies -- SPECIFICALLY ask about nuts, dairy, wheat, eggs
b) Absolute hates -- ("kiddos won't eat any green veggie"; spicy foods)
c) Special diet: Vegetarian, gluten-free; low fat, low salt, low carb, diabetic; sugar free, no desserts desired ...
d) Do you like ethnic foods, such as Asian, Italian, Hispanic, mid-eastern? (Which ones yes or no.)
e) Do you eat pork products? This includes pork, ham (ham& bean dishes), bacon (including in salads), BBQ pork, and for some folk, jello (gelatin).
f) Do you enjoy fish -- grilled or baked real fish; tuna casserole; fish stew?

3) Time you'd prefer food to be delivered, understanding that this timing might not be possible for the cook. Do you want the cook to call right before s/he comes?

4) How many adults and children will be eating? How old are the kids? (15 y/o boys eat much more than 4 y/o girls!)

5) Do you prefer all disposable containers, or will you wash and return the containers?

Instructions to the cooks:

1) Make contact with the family at least 24 hrs before it is your turn to bring food. Conditions may have changed; they may have more than enough food for tomorrow (since so many people tend to be very generous with portion sizes.)

2) Clearly label with your name and phone number any non-disposable containers and their lids. If you include a bag with your name on it to return them in, the family can just set the bag on the front porch for easy pick-up, if desired.

3) Don't insist on seeing the new baby -- mom might not feel up to it! But if you ARE allowed in, make it a very brief (5 minute) visit, unless mom invites you to stay longer.
Final suggestions:

1) Because the new baby's grandma might come to help after the birth, assess whether or not the family wants food brought in while grandma is here, or, would they prefer meals after grandma leaves?

2) Because so many cooks are very generous, you might want meals only every other day. In between, the family can eat leftovers. Otherwise, the food tends to pile up in the fridge.

3) If food is for a crowd right after the funeral, would the family like church people to come in to set up while the family is at the funeral? (to Meals Coordinator: would there be enough volunteers to even offer this service?


I think you ladies will agree that this is a great list of practical tips, suggestions and questions we can ask when we are coordinating meals for another! Thanks, Kathy, for sharing your approach to helping serve others in the church through a food ministry!

Any tips or tricks any of you would add to this? Please feel free to share in the comments!


  1. I haven't used it, but I've thought about how convenient an online coordination site for meal donors would be:

    When one of the members of my (non-church-affiliated) women's group had back surgery, another member was the point person to coordinate when her family needed meals, and who was doing the donating, to avoid duplication and many of the things talked about in this post. Very helpful when there is no official designated "meal coordinator."

  2. Joanna - that's an excellent resource! I just went and checked it out. Thanks for sharing that link with us!

    It IS a great idea - esp. for people who are part of community groups or who have friends in various churches who all want to provide meals to a family but have to coordinate with a larger group. This seems like a neat way to streamline the information.

    Thanks again! I'm definitely going to keep this one in mind!

  3. I love this part of our church, I think it is such a great resource.

    Cheap Like A Birdie Blog

  4. These are great tips, and much more thorough than our church's current system.

  5. Great tips!! I've received meals after each of my babies were born and it was a great help. I'd add a couple of tips from my experience:

    1. If you are coordinating, make the cooks tell you what they are bringing. Meatloaf 3 times in a week is a bit much.

    2. If you are the cook DON'T take enough salad for a week. More than likely someone else will also bring salad as a side and that's a LOT of salad to throw away.

    3. Please remember that 4 year old boys aren't likely to eat scalloped potatoes made with gouda cheese (or any other fancy cheese).

    4. Please don't make the poor new mom have to wash your good dishes and return them. Buy disposable containers. You won't worry about the dishes and the new mom won't stress about returning them.

    5. Include a set of pretty paper plates, napkins and cups. When my daughter was born my friend brought pink everything along with the dinner she made. We didn't have to wash the dishes and the pink (after 2 sons) was an added touch of celebration.

    6. Consider if the foods you are taking cause gas. When breastfeeding, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and spicy food are definite no-no's for the first couple of months. You might cook the best chili in the world but if I'm up all night with a gassy baby I'm not going to appreciate your meal. :)

    7. If you arrange a time to drop the food, please don't be late! By the way, 10 minutes is late. I might be working you into a breastfeeding/nap schedule and 10 minutes can make a huge difference.

  6. Have you seen this too?
    The program is called "Take Them a Meal", and you sign up to be a member, then are notified via e-mail whenever a family in need is added on the list to bring meals to. You go and look at the dates, then sign up if any of the open dates work.

    Our church doesn't do it, but it seems like it would be very helpful!

  7. Stephanie, great tips! May i include some of your stuff as i write up some new guidelines for our church?

    kathy (OP) / (tmu)

  8. Kathy, feel free to use any or all of my tips in your church guidelines. I speak for all of us here at Offering Hospitality when I say that our desire is to give our readers ideas to use in real life.

    We do ask that if you quote any of our ideas in a hard copy newsletter or on a blog that you give reference to us and link to the appropriate post.