METNWS-07-22-21 AT THE RIVER RETURNS_PHOTO

For more than five years, volunteers have donated their time to serve hot meals to community members with the At The River ministries program. After a 16-month hiatus because of COVID-19, At The River’s free monthly meals are returning on Monday.

For many, it had become a time to be with others and enjoy a meal.

Then COVID-19 hit.

And, after five years of assisting its community, At The River Ministries (ATR) came to a standstill.

That will change next week when ATR returns to offer a free hot meal for anyone who has need.

ATR’s monthly meals will resume at 5 p.m. Monday at a new location — the Metropolis Community Center, 900 W. 10th St. The meal will be followed by a time of worship and distribution of gifts.

Those needing transportation will need to call 638-7561 call by 3 p.m. on Monday. Boarding the First Baptist Church van will begin at 4:30 p.m. at Guardian House, Haven House and Humma Apartments.

As in the past, ATR relies on volunteers. And there are several ways to assist, said board member Jackie Lange, including cooks, servers, security, set up and clean up crews for each meal for which the food will be provided. Individuals, families, churches, clubs or organizations can volunteer by emailing what area they can help and how often to atr62960@gmail.com.

Another way to get involved is through financial support. Individuals, families, churches, clubs or organizations can donate to help sponsor a meal, which is approximately $250 each month. Tax deductible gifts can be mailed to At The River Ministries, P.O. Box 95, Metropolis IL 62960. Lange noted that while all gifts are used primarily for the meals, ATR also helps families buy food, pay rent or utilities, but never gives cash.

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ATR’s first community meal was held March 25, 2013, and over its first year of monthly meetings, some 40 volunteers from various denominations come together to serve 50 to 100 people by feeding them physically and spiritually.

While that first meal was the start of ATR — a name based on Matthew 25:35-36, where Jesus tells his disciples to feed the hungry, visit the sick and visit the imprisoned — its concept was on the heart of board member Dan Haun since he moved to Metropolis over six years earlier. In 2010, he learned of The Bridge Ministry begun by Kent and Candy Christmas in Nashville, Tennessee, where churches provide meals and other physical and spiritual needs weekly for the community. Several from Metropolis had gone to Nashville to assist with the program. It was in January 2013 that Haun began throwing out the idea of starting something similar in Metropolis. A few weeks later, the idea was taken to other churches and organizations in the community.

“Many of us have served in years past, and we are so grateful for them,” said Lange, who is joined on the board by Haun, Terry Foster and Ginger Nicholson.

ATR marked its fifth anniversary in 2018 and by the time of its last meeting in February 2020, it was reaching 60 to 100 people, depending on the time of year.

“It has grown to be more like a family than just an outreach,” Lange said. “People come for fellowship and encouragement. I sense our purpose has been to meet people where they are in life and try to connect them with a church family to love and care for their needs in tangible ways. We always refer people to different ministries that are meeting specific needs so we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’ve seen the community stepping in to help in very unique ways to do their part to help those in need since ATR began.”

Over the years, ATR has met at Dorothy Miller Park, Life Church Eastland and, from 2018-20, New Beginnings Church. “We thank Pastor Clay Blankenbaker, the New Beginnings church members and staff for the use of their time and building,” Lange said.

Lange noted while Monday is the beginning of ATR’s monthly meals, which are held on the fourth Monday, there is “the opportunity gather more often if we have all the necessary resources.

“Many lives have been blessed and changed thanks to everyone doing their part to help spread the good news to our community,” she said. “We want to continue this much needed outreach.”

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