By Doug Ireland
---- — The economy may be improving, but the need to feed the hungry hasn’t diminished in Southern New Hampshire.
Many local organizations are offering free community meals on a regular basis to help people still struggling following the recession that hit five years ago.
Some organizations have banded together, including in Derry, to more effectively serve those who are on fixed incomes, have lost their jobs or have seen their paychecks reduced.
It’s called the Derry Community Meals Network, and includes several churches and a school that provide meals.
Other area organizations and churches serve free meals as well, including Sonshine Soup Kitchen in Derry and Pleasant Street United Methodist Church in Salem.
While more people may be heading back to work and fewer homes are being lost to foreclosure, there are still plenty of Southern New Hampshire residents who need a little extra help, according to the Rev. Susan Walker of Pleasant Street United Methodist Church.
“There is quite a need and we are happy to do it,” she said.
Walker is also the pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Derry, part of the Community Meals Network.
Both churches offer a free monthly meal to anyone in need, attracting about 45 people to each sitting, she said. All of the food is donated, and prepared and served by church members, Walker said.
“The food goes fast,” Walker said. “There’s never much left after.”
But these meals are more than just getting a bite to eat without burdening one’s budget.
“There is also the fellowship,” she said.
The community meals at the two churches are just as much about getting together with others to socialize and enjoy each other’s company, Walker said.
That’s also the case at West Running Brook Middle School in Derry, where free spaghetti suppers are offered each month, according to assistant principal Lorrie Belinsky.
As many as 100 people will turn out for a meal, she said. The school is also part of the Community Meals Network.
The dinners are especially popular with senior citizens, many of whom look forward to just being with others, she said.
“They said they don’t come here because they need it, they come to get together,” Belinsky said.
The opportunity to socialize is also a big part of the experience at Sonshine Soup Kitchen in Derry, according to program director Christine Fudala.
Sonshine, which prepares about 55 meals five nights a week, also serves many senior citizens on fixed incomes, she said. Last month, there were 212 volunteers who helped out, Fudala said. In January, there were 276 volunteers.
Fudala said she enjoys watching the seniors get together.
“Many people come here and they don’t see anyone else in their daily routine,” she said. “It’s like a social hour. It’s pretty to cool to watch.”
Others members of the Community Meals Network include Church of the Transfiguration and Etz Hayim Synagogue, both of Derry.
They have teamed up to create Elijah’s Table, which offers free meals on Sundays, according to the Rev. Raymond Bonin of Church of the Transfiguration.
Approximately 40 to 60 people attend each meal, with some helping to prepare and serve the food as well, he said.
“There are a lot of people who come who are fixed incomes,” Bonin said. “It’s fellowship as much as it is need. We are happy to be a place where that can happen.”
The network also includes First Parish Congregational Church and Seventh Day Adventist Church, both in Derry.
Here’s is a listing of there upcoming meals:
West Running Brook School, 5 to 6:30 p.m., Thursday; Seventh Day Adventist, noon, March 23; Etz Hayim Synagogue, 5 to 6:30 p.m., March 23; First Parish Congregational Church, 5 to 6:30, March 28; Seventh Day Adventist, noon, March 30.