In 2010, Christie Tietjen, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Chesterfield, Mo., was laid up for six weeks after foot surgery. As she recovered, church family and others provided almost daily meals. While the meals helped make things easier for her family, Tietjen said the caring act itself was what meant the most to them.

An idea started forming for Tietjen and was reinforced when she came across a 2009 article in The Lutheran (“Meet me at the freezer”), which told of a South Dakota congregation that made freezer meals to share with people who were going through tough times.

“I thought, we’ve got to do this at Trinity,” she said. “It wasn’t just about serving people within our church, but more about serving people outside who don’t have that support my family was receiving.”

Tietjen brought the idea to her congregation, and in April 2010 they had their first cooking session, producing 50 lasagna freezer meals. They chose to name their ministry “Meals Do Matter,” reflecting the congregation’s mission statement: “You matter to God. You matter to us.”

Since that first cooking session in 2010, Tietjen’s congregation has made and delivered nearly 5,200 meals, with 95 percent of them going to people outside of Trinity. And now the team at Trinity is sharing their tips and tricks on a larger scale.

“We would get input from others outside of Trinity saying this is a great ministry; you need to share this,” Tietjen said. “We thought, why should any church have to re-create this? We have all of it.”

They built a website to share their wisdom with other congregations and organizations looking for ways to connect in their community. From table layouts showing how assembly stations can be arranged, to more than a dozen recipes, to what packing containers work best, every detail is covered.

One person who learned about Meals Do Matter from Tietjen’s congregation is her friend Lori Whitnell, whom she met more than 20 years ago when their families were members of a mission congregation in the Kansas City area.

“I heard about it from Christie and thought, this is the best—what a great program,” said Whitnell, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wheaton, Ill. “Not only is it an outreach to people in the community outside of your church, but it brings people in the congregation together to do something for others too. I thought it would be a great community experience all around.”

Whitnell’s congregation used recipes and suggestions from the Meals Do Matter website and had their first meal assembly session last November. They’ve had subsequent sessions about every three months.

“I’m really passionate about this program,” Whitnell said. “It’s amazing what something like a simple meal means to someone. I think that
especially in today’s world of technology, we seem to be a little less connected. It’s nice to connect with someone else and let them know they’re not alone out there.”

“I’m really passionate about this program. It’s amazing what something like a simple meal means to someone.” — Lori Whitnell

Frozen meals, warm hearts

Whether they’re going to someone dealing with an illness, struggling after the loss of a job or feeling overwhelmed after a child’s birth, the meals are the ultimate in comfort food, with recipes like macaroni and cheese, soups, lasagna, and ham and potatoes.

The meals are prepared in servings of two and four. All are frozen, allowing those who receive them to make the meals when it’s most convenient. At Trinity and St. Paul, the meals are ready and waiting in freezers at the churches, available for members to take whenever they know someone could benefit. Each freezer meal comes with a prayer, a card explaining a bit about the ministry the meal came from and a comment card for recipients to return, if they so wish.

“We’ve gotten some really nice notes,” Whitnell said. “Everything from people saying that it was so convenient to people saying, ‘I don’t even go to your church; I can’t believe you gave this to me.’ It’s so gratifying to participate in this together as a congregation, and it’s heartwarming to see it come full circle, that the meals were blessings.”

Tietjen added, “This not only touches the lives of the people who receive the meals but also the people who put the meals together and deliver them. We get just as much from it. It’s a great way to live out our faith.”

While the Meals Do Matter website gives suggestions, Tietjen and Whitnell say the program is adaptable for any group. People at Trinity cook the meals at the church and they have several designated freezers for the ministry. At St. Paul, the congregation decided to have people prepare cooked food in advance at home and get together at church for meal assembly days.

“People ask, ‘Can you really re-create this at other places?’ ” Whitnell said. “The answer is yes; yes, you can.”

And they have. While Tietjen said she has no formal method of tracking how many congregations have started a Meals Do Matter program, she’s heard stories from others about the ministry spreading.

“Everybody has deaths, babies, medical crises—everyone knows someone in their life who could use a meal and a show of support,” she said. “I’d love to see [Meals Do Matter] grow and see people doing this ministry everywhere. That’s my dream.”

Megan Brandsrud
Brandsrud is an associate editor of Living Lutheran.

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