Marion church’s Friendship Dinner fills bellies and hearts

Oct 18, 2018

MARION — “Friendship Dinner” may sound like an incredibly cheesy name for a church dinner. But the name rings true for volunteers at the Marion Congregational Church, which hosts the dinner, and for many participants, who attend to eat together with longtime friends.

The dinner, which is held the third Thursday of every month, started about 15 years ago, as a community event open to anyone. The Congregational Church hosts the dinner and funds it through a combination of free will donations and budgeted money.

Most of the participants (and even a few of the volunteers) are not Congregational Church members, but there is still a powerful sense of community among the regulars, who tend to sit at the same tables.

“There was a woman who recently lost her partner. So this is great outreach for her to come here and be with people and get some hugs,” said Susan Smith, a Congregational Church member who has been volunteering at the event for about 5 years. 

Colby Rottler, a Mattapoisett resident, attends St. Anthony’s church there. But the Marion Congregational Church approached him as the owner of Commanding Cuisine to ask if he would cook a special dinner for them.

“I thought, at church the priest will say, ‘sometimes we have to give time and talents to give back.’ God spoke to me, and I said ‘it’s only once a month, I can do that.’” Rottler said, to explain why he started volunteering regularly. He added that,“This is what I would cook for a high-end party.”

Rottler chooses a seasonal menu for each month, and uses church funds to buy food wholesale. He gets there at 9 a.m. on the day of the dinner to prepare a three course meal for around 60 people, with enough left over for about 25 people to take home as leftovers.

He stays to talk to people at the Friendship Dinners, and enjoys the community aspect of the event.

“There was one woman, she was in her 90s, she said ‘do you mind if I take the food home? I live by myself, and I never see anybody, but I can come here and I can talk to people,’” Rottler recounted. “And that’s what it is, the fellowship of enjoying a meal and coming and talking to people.”

It’s a lot of work, but Rottler can also see that his efforts are appreciated.

“Some people you can see that they really need the food, and need a nutritious meal,” he explained, adding that “the best part of it all is they have people that come in and do all the clean up!”

That would be Bill Bixby. The Marion resident is a member of the Southcoast Community Church in Fairhaven, but has been volunteering with the friendship dinner almost from the beginning. Volunteers fall into regular roles, and Bixby usually stays until about 7 p.m. to wash the dishes.

“Sometimes you do what you think are little things, but to other people they end up being big things,” Bixby said, to explain his role.

Bixby added that as one of the longest serving members, he has developed different relationships with different volunteers over the years. But he highly enjoys the community aspect of the dinner.

Bill Winters is a Congregational Church member who regularly attends the dinner.

“I come to see old friends. One time, someone asked me ‘why don’t you go sit at another table and meet new friends?,’” he recalled, “and I responded, ‘But I don’t want to meet new friends, I come to see old friends.’”

As a September addition to the Friendship Dinners, the Penny Pinchers Exchange has decided to open its doors during the event. This month, in the Halloween spirit, they had various costumes on display.