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Church Cafés Offer First Night Dining Options for a Good Cause

by on December 27, 2019 5:00 AM

If you work up an appetite at this year’s First Night State College celebration on Tuesday, you certainly won’t be lacking for dining options, including a few that will feed your belly for a good cause.

Both Faith United Church of Christ and University Baptist and Brethren Church host cafes during First Night, with proceeds benefiting the organizations’ outreach and service. 

Faith United Church of Christ, 300 E. College Ave., has been partnering with First Night State College since the event’s inception, 26 years years ago. The church serves several varieties of chili and sides like homemade cornbread and hot dogs, as well as desserts, at its First Night Café. 

Money raised supports the church’s ministries, including the Out of the Cold homeless shelter and Penguin Packs weekend food supplies, distributed to elementary-age students. Additionally, funds raised allow the church to waive rental fees for organizations who want to use its facilities for charitable causes or events, such as THON or Operation Smile. 

“The money that Faith collects from the cafe goes into the general fund, where it combines with monthly special collections and individual donations (usually earmarked for specific recipients, such as Penguin Packs),” Jeff Stormer, administrative assistant at Faith United Church, said. “A few organizations will receive some straight-up financial help: Hoffman Homes for Youth, Bethany Children's Home, Camp Harman, [Interfaith Human Services]…For most [recipients], [support] is more goods and services, like building use…”

Stormer says more than a dozen individuals assist in running the cafe, which is open 4:30–6:30 p.m., selling tickets, making chili, cleaning and performing other tasks, all so that ideally hundreds of people can get out of the cold on New Year’s Eve and enjoy some hearty comfort food.

“[The community] can have a good, safe, fun time with family and friends at First Night, and maybe swing by for some simple, warming food and fellowship while downtown,” Stormer said, when asked why he thinks locals and visitors should stop by the First Night Café.

At University Baptist and Brethren Church, 411 S. Burrowes St., the church’s youth group hosts the annual Soups & Sweets Café 4–8 p.m. during First Night State College. A variety of soups and desserts are served and proceeds benefit the church’s youth service camps.

“The funds raised help pay for youth to register and travel to Brethren Work Camps. These are service learning opportunities that are five to seven days long all over the United States,” said Chloe House, co-coordinator of Soups & Sweets Café. “Special areas of service include helping to feed the food insecure at food banks and soup kitchens, supporting people who face domestic violence, gardening in low-income areas, farming in urban locations and building and maintaining housing for the homeless.

“Every summer we send youth in grades 6-12 out to do some work. They work very hard, much harder than they work at home. The youth also get some down time to enjoy whatever area they are in.”

House said the youth participants are positively impacted by expanding their sense of the United States and its people, and by contributing hard work in communities.

“We sent about 10 youth to work camps last summer. The communities they worked in last year were South Bend, Indiana, and Waco, Texas,” House said. “In recent years past, they have helped out in Harrisonburg, Virginia; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York. The number of people they supported there would likely include at least 100 needy people in these communities they visit…”

Over the last five years, the Soups & Sweets Café has raised between $1,200 and $1,400 each year. This year, House said, she would love to see the cafe raise $1,500 or more. 

The event is volunteer-run and all the food is donated. Adult volunteers prepare food during the event, while members of the youth group take orders, serve food and clean. 

This year’s cafe menu includes chicken corn chowder, chicken noodle soup, chili, black bean soup, Thai curry squash soup and tomato soup. Desserts include pies, cakes, cheesecakes, cupcakes and brownies. 

In previous years, the cafe has charged a set rate per soup and per dessert, but this year, the church plans to implement a ‘donations welcome’ structure.

“We hope people will come out and enjoy the events, the food and contribute what they can! It’s a festive event to help warm up on New Year’s Eve and ring in the New Year,” says House. 

“Soups and Sweets affords these great 6–12th graders an opportunity to give back and work hard. I’ve never seen my daughters work as hard, physically, as they do at Work Camp. The youth come back exhausted but full of fresh perspective. The more people we have coming out to Soups and Sweets during First Night, the better!”

University Baptist and Brethren Church, 411 S. Burrowes St., hosts Soups & Sweets Café from 4–8 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Photo provided.

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, lifestyle and entertainment writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
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