Every day, more than two-thirds of area children receive free meals at school. For many, it is their best serving of food for the day and for some, their only meal.
With many families struggling to survive in the wake of the recession and a growing population of homeless students, a group of churches, some with very different backgrounds, decided to do something.
A bowl of soup: It sounded simple, but organizers knew it could have a huge impact.
So in March, they launched Payson Community Meals after months of planning and fine-tuning recipes. The inaugural meal was comforting — chicken soup.
Gary Bedsworth, head of the steering committee organizing the soup kitchen, said he pulled out a recipe he had and with the advice of his wife, a nutritionist, tweaked it to pack in the most amount of nutrients.
Some 60 people turned out for the free meal. The group expects attendance to rise each month.
The next community meal is from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 12 at United Methodist Church, 414 N. Easy St., behind Ace Hardware.
From needy families and the elderly, to homeless students, all are welcome, he said.
Individuals must register and meet federal low-income requirements -- ranging from $20,100 for a single person to $41,300 for a family of four.
Rev. Javier Olivares of Payson Methodist Church first approached Bedsworth with the idea for a soup kitchen. Olivares said he knew Mountain Bible Church ran a free meal program every Monday and it attracted an average of 150 people.
The group felt if that many people were turning out once a week at Mountain Bible, the need for a communitywide soup kitchen was needed.
Bedsworth approached several area churches that agreed to collaborate, including Payson United Methodist, Mount Cross Lutheran, Community Presbyterian and St. Paul’s Episcopal.
The group formed a 12-member steering committee and set to work getting food handler licenses, a commercial kitchen and food donations.
United Food Bank, which also provides food for the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, provides some of the ingredients while donations cover the rest.
Recently, the group received a 10-gallon donation of ungrounded wheat. Unsure what to do with it since he did not have a grinder, Bedsworth found out the LDS church had a grinder. The church agreed to mill the flour and Bedsworth says he now has enough flour to make hundreds of cookies.
Bedsworth also got a donation of 30 cases of tomatoes. If they get a donation of ground beef, they can make spaghetti.
Payson Community Meals will be held at United Methodist for the first three months during a trial period. The steering committee will then assess if they need more space or should expand to additional days.
Total build out is projected between 150 to 200 servings, Bedsworth said.