Every second Saturday of the month a group of volunteers at First United Methodist Church in Altus prepares a meal for anyone who shows up.
The leader is Lt. James Tolson, a full-time firefighter at Altus Air Force Base. Tolson and his wife Sherri have been helping at the Love Feast for nearly 10 years now. After helping for a while wherever they could, they became the leaders for the event. Five years later and one or both of them will be there every month.
When Tolson first started volunteering at the Love Feast in 2007, he was apprehensive and said “his wife dragged him.” Now, he hates missing it. Each month he goes back with other regular volunteers such as Randy and Mary Strom, Dr. Julia Rivera, Jade Lane, Mary Huber, Phyllis Winsett and Renee Howard.
Winsett and Howard provide cakes for the event each month. Many airmen and other firefighters from the the base fire station also volunteer as often they can. Tolson’s wife Sherri, mother Carolyn and his in-laws, help as well. On Feb. 11, Chris showed Airmen Zach Ballengee and Jesse Pearson how to make firemen’s casserole for that day’s meal.
It started as a community service project for the church’s confirmation class. The first meal the church group served was spaghetti, a meal the church repeats every August. What started off as a one weekend event soon turned into every weekend, hosted by other churches in the Altus area, including First Baptist Church, Primera Iglesia Bautista, Church of Christ on Elm and Hudson and Glad Tidings Assembly of God.
Providing nearly 200 meals at First United Methodist Church alone, the volunteers of Love Feast serve a homemade meal to anyone who walks through the doors.
“It’s a no thanks type job, but it’s not for the recognition,” Tolson said. “It’s for the community.”
Each month, the church members try to serve a different meal, keeping with traditional meals in November and December. These are the busiest months, serving more than 300 meals. Not really knowing what the other churches serve previous or following weeks, the church members try to mix it up when it’s their turn.
The cooking is one of the reasons Tolson goes back. His favorite meal was when they made pizza — complete with homemade dough — giving him a chance to live the dream of working in a pizza parlor for a day. All the food and time for the event is donated. Tolson also said he doesn’t have a budget. They work with whatever they have available that month. Many of those who have eaten a meal before come back to volunteer later. Among the volunteers are airmen and firefighters from Altus Air Force Base, college students needing community service hours, volunteers, church groups and people looking to lend a hand.
“I’ll never turn help away,” Tolson said. “If you’re willing to work, we’ll find something for you to do. We always need volunteers.”
Tolson said it’s not a soup kitchen, but people coming together as a community for a meal.
“It shows that there are people out there that actually care and are still willing to give their time,” Tolson said regarding the impact he believes Love Feast has on Altus.
The meal is provided from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every second Saturday at First Methodist Church, 317 N. Main St. in Altus.
For more information, call the church office at 580-482-0795 or Tolson at 580-471-3620.
Reach Kate Kirkpatrick at 580-482-1221, ext. 2083