The Shalom Community Center benefits Bloomington in innumerable ways. One — when an individual is walking downtown Monday through Friday and is approached by a stranger in need, he can say "No, I don't give away money, but I can walk you over to the Shalom Center, when you can have hot food, a place inside away from the weather, and a myriad of resources. ..."

But what about on weekends? When Doug and Kathy Curry and their son Riley were approached downtown for money for food after attending church, they had the option of ignoring the request and walking on, or simply saying no.

Instead, they went to their fellow church members to address the challenge, and Bloomington's newest meal program was created. "Shalom Sunday" - so named to tie in to the work of the Shalom Community Center — is a free Sunday breakfast at First Christian Church, 205 E. Kirkwood.

The Sunday breakfast program was launched Feb. 5, with a total of 19 individuals served between the hours of 8:30 and 10 a.m. Scheduled to run through May, the ministry will be continued past that time as the need continues.

"No worries there," said Joel Rekas, founder and executive director of Shalom Center, which is located inside the First United Methodist Church at 219 E. Fourth St. The Curry family consulted Rekas when creating their vision of a Sunday program.

"People and agencies ask me about 'duplication of service' regarding those coping with poverty," said Rekas at a training for Shalom Sunday volunteers. "I assure them there's no such thing."

Basketball, cycling, and poverty

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 29.6 percent of Bloomington's population and 10.3 percent of Bloomington families are below poverty level. Out of the total population, 17.3 percent of those under the age of 18 and 7.6 percent of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

"Pervasive" and "invisible" are words Rekas uses to describe area poverty. In the next breath, he says there's no community more giving and generous than Bloomington.

Five years ago, the Great Harvest Ministry Center of Bloomington recognized the same need — no meals provided on Sundays to people in need. The Shalom Center operates Monday through Friday, offering breakfast and lunch. Community Kitchen of Monroe County, Inc. offers supper from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday at two locations: 917 South Rogers St. and 1100 West 11th St. So the church at 1107 S. Fairview Drive began Harvest House Soup Kitchen.

"Some of the people we saw five years ago, we are still serving today," says volunteer coordinator Robert Kee. Some are homeless, others just find it impossible to make ends meet, week by week. The common denominator is poverty. Guests who walk into the outreach are immediately and warmly greeted ("Hello! Good to see you!") and offered a hot meal, then a sack lunch to take with them The service is open every Sunday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. at serves at least 60 people.

"We could triple that number if we had a downtown location, or if mass transit was available on Sundays," said Kee. The church also provides emergency food relief.

Shalom Sunday

During the launch of Shalom Sunday at First Christian Church, volunteers figured out which items were most popular with their breakfast guests, and brainstormed future selections: fresh and dried fruit, casseroles, biscuits and gravy.

"We'll need more granola bars," noted Riley Curry, a South sophomore, as his mom Kathy realized she'd forgotten to bring the eggs she'd hardboiled.

Wiping down an industrial sink, volunteer Dee Hupp-Sanders said, "I feel this has already been a big success for our congregation. And as we continue to give and serve, word will travel."

Helen Enari, associate minister of the church, checked on the group between services. "I'm thrilled," said Enari, referring to the meal program's launch. "The congregation recognized a need in the community, a way to minister. An invaluable service is being provided."

"Thank you so much for doing this," said Rekas, who stopped in twice during the breakfast to show support to the volunteers and to connect with friends.

The guests dined on toast, cereal, coffee, juice, and pastries while reading the paper, catching up with friends, and meeting their hosts. Baroque music from a CD player filled the hall where the ministry was located, while temps outside dipped below 30 degrees.

When asked for advice about the new program, Ned Powell, local activist and volunteer for Pastors for Peace Caravan and other agencies, replied, "Just continue."

Melissa McReynolds is a member of First Christian Church and can be reached at .