Two guests showed up on a cold January evening in 2002, when a group of dedicated Barron volunteers served their first “Meal from the Heart.”

Last Thursday, June 20, 2019, many of those same guests and volunteers met one, final time at First Lutheran Church, Barron, for the last Meal from the Heart to be served over the past 18 and one-half years.

In the kitchen, volunteers Nancy Kasper, Helene Calkins and Carrie Johnston, who represented Sterling Bank, were busy with peanut butter cups, fresh rolls, salads and desserts. Kasper said she and Brenda Oftedahl once coordinated volunteer efforts in behalf of the Barron Bear 4-H Club.

“Our month used to be June,” Kasper said. “But when the club went out of existence, Sterling Bank took over for this month.”

The main course for the evening?

“It’s going to be Cavatilli, from (Cumberland-based) Bona Casa,” Kasper replied. “They’ve been our mainstay for all these years.”

In addition to the main course, snacks and desserts, Sterling Bank employees fixed several fresh salads for the evening.

Throughout its existence, Meal from the Heart has been coordinated by local resident Marge Colby, who heads a steering committee involved with the program.

Steering committee members have represented several Barron area church congregations over the years, Colby added. They include First Lutheran, First United Methodist, St. Joseph Catholic and Foursquare.

“At our first meal, we had two people,” Colby said during a recent interview. Attendance “ranged up to about 50, but it is now down to 25,” she said.

Steering committee members arranged for the space (always at First Lutheran), recruited groups to prepare and serve the food each month, and attended the meals to make sure everything went smoothly, to visit with guests and servers, and to be sure the kitchen and dining area were clean afterward.

“The serving group gets to decide the menu,” Colby said. “It could be turkey pot pie and lefse, soup and sandwiches, even hot dogs and brats – you name it.”

Over the past two decades, Meal from the Heart became as much a social event (for both clients and organizers) as it was a practical means of serving food to people who needed it, she added.

On June 20, Colby visited with local resident Terry Jergenson, as guests gathered for the evening meal. He shared news about his brother, recently retired Extension Ag Agent Tim Jergenson.

“Boy, is he ever busy with his sheep,” Terry said. He and Colby reminisced about his parents, “and all the sacrifices they made for us.”

“I loved meeting the people, and the groups who served the meals,” Colby said. “I will miss them like family. We’ve grown and changed a lot (over time). It’s great to be able to serve the needs of the community.”

After 18 years, though, it’s time to bring the program to a close, she said.

“It’s getting harder to find groups to serve, harder to recruit volunteers and raise funds – society has changed, and the window is closing,” Colby said. “I am now the only one at First Lutheran left (on the Steering Committee).”

She said two other traditional meals will continue to be served at First Lutheran – on Thanksgiving and Christmas.