"What's the verdict," a patron wanted to know as he walked up to the food counter at Messiah Lutheran Church in Grand Island Saturday night.

"Everything's good," said church member Bob Krohn, who helped organize the church's soup supper ministry. It's in its second week of offering meals on Saturday nights.

Pastor David Zellmer said church members noticed during Thursday night stints as volunteers at the Salvation Army that many people were being fed, but there were no organized free meals offered in Grand Island on weekends. The Salvation Army provides breakfast and supper on weekdays only.

"We started talking and asked how many people would be willing to help," Zellmer said of a weekend food program. "We had 55 to 60 people (in the church) say they would be willing to help. We figured if we can get the volunteers, we could find a source for the food."

So Messiah Lutheran volunteers gather at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and begin preparing soup and fixings. Much of the food is donated and the church spends $100 a week to fill in the rest.

Yesterday's menu was chicken noodle soup, barbecue sandwiches, bologna sandwiches, fresh fruit, bread, cake and pie and a choice of milk or water.

"It helps a lot of people who don't have a place to go," said a grandmother at the soup supper with her two grandchildren. "If you don't get that much for food stamps, this helps it stretch. If you're a diabetic, it just gets harder."

The grandmother was particularly appreciative of the fresh fruit — something she needs more of to better control her diabetes.

Another patron at the grandmother's table said he, too, was appreciative of the church's outreach.

"It was good food last week and good food tonight," he said Saturday evening. "I worked up until eight months ago when I was laid off. I'm 71, so they won't be hiring me back. Social Security just doesn't cover all the bills."

The retired man owns his home, but utility bills and costs to keep his car running take almost all his government check.

"You know what I had left after all my bills last month?" he asked. "Four bucks — and no groceries. Tell the young people not to count on Social Security."

Along with the nourishment of food — much of which was handed out for patrons to take with them to eat on Sunday — come the companionship and social aspect of gathering for a meal. Some patrons said the opportunity to sit and talk with other people was their main reason for coming.

About 50 people have been served each of the two weeks the Saturday supper has been offered. Food is served from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the church basement. Messiah is located just north of downtown Grand Island at Seventh and Locust streets.

Free meals in Grand Island

Salvation Army, 818 W. Third, 7 to 8:45 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Messiah Lutheran Church, 122 W. Seventh, 4:30 to 6 p.m. Saturdays.

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