For six years, churches and volunteers have provided free dinners, prayers and community support for hundreds of residents of Beaufort's Northwest Quadrant neighborhood on Friday nights.
But lately, the number of volunteers for the Washington Street Park Friday Night Dinners has dwindled, so organizers are looking for new ways to maintain what they consider a vital ministry.
"You've got to bring in new people, and it has to be a multi-age thing so you can keep the spark there and the energy there," said Abby Morris, who helps coordinate the dinners for the Parish Church of St. Helena.
Carteret Street United Methodist Church also provides bagged meals every Thursday in the park.
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Once, eight churches took turns serving meals that range from soup and sandwiches to pasta to barbecue. A half dozen still participate, but most are no longer on a regular rotation, according to volunteer Tammy Cargill.
Through the years, volunteers have bonded with dozens of people who attend regularly. They've learned about other needs and have helped fulfill them, Cargill said.
That includes trips to doctors' appointments -- even ones as far away as Charleston -- free treatment donated by local dentists, assistance with tax forms and official paperwork, and help getting donated bikes for two disabled men, she said."I think our responsibilities go beyond dishing up food, and the only way to do that is to get to know people," she said.
Supporters are working hard to ensure no Friday nights are missed. Only once since the program began -- when there was a hurricane evacuation -- has a meal not been served in the park, Morris said.
Friday nights during June are covered, but only two Fridays are booked in July and August, Cargill said.
So organizers are starting to look to businesses and non-religious organizations willing to help.
Cargill said the religious aspect of the gatherings is subtle.
"It's not like we beat people over the head with it, but we do say grace and say a blessing over the food, and it's paramount that we do that," she said. "But probably most people wouldn't have a problem with that."
Kimberly Konoza, who has volunteered through Tidal Creek Fellowship, has brought her Beta Sigma Phi sorority in to help, Cargill said.
Kelley Blackston, who owns Beaufort Dog with her husband, Jason, volunteered with Family Connect, a ministry of the Parish Church of St. Helena. But she is also reaching out to the business community.
"I'm a business owner, and I have a passion for getting families together and small-town kinds of things," she said.
St. Helena Thanksgiving feast brings community together, Nov. 24, 2011