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Big Meal

Fort Mill, Lake Wylie SC Community Cafe church sites reopen

For a group founded on getting people together around a table, it’s been a long time apart. On Tuesday, though, lunch will be served.

Community Cafe founder and head chef Don Murfin announced in an email to supporters Sunday that in-person meals will start back Tuesday at Lake Wylie Christian Assembly.

“It seems like forever that we’ve been wearing masks, standing in lines to get vaccinated, serving take outs only and trying our best to hold everything together,” Murfin wrote, “but that is finally going to change.”

Not everything will be back to the old normal of pre-COVID times, but this week is a “mighty big step forward,” he wrote. Free hot lunches will be served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lake Wylie Christian Assembly on Tuesday and Lake Wylie Lutheran Church on Friday. As of Sunday, Murfin was unsure about volunteer staffing needed to run the Sisk Memorial Baptist Church site in Fort Mill on Thursday.

The Community Cafe concept began in 2010. The idea is a volunteer-run cafe that serves hot meals, at no cost. Guests can donate to help keep the cafe sites running. Diner, community and corporate donations have kept sites going for more than a decade.

What started as one lunch gathering at a Lake Wylie church now includes three sites, a food truck and weekly deliveries across much of York County. Including several traditionally under-served areas that have increased meal counts in recent years, plus many area shut-ins who aren’t able to travel for a meal.

So far this year, even without in-person dining, there have been more than 52,000 meals served. Operations have been to-go or run through the food truck. Since the first meal in 2010 there have been almost 557,000 served.

Late last month Murfin and his team came up with protocols to reopen in partner church facilities. Recent fixes for the food truck will help improve service, and on July 1 service resumed to the Catawba reservation after a self-imposed lockdown there due to COVID. A return to dine-in is the last piece of the puzzle.

Cafe site protocols will limit tables to four guests each. Guests who have completed COVID-19 vaccination won’t have to wear masks. All volunteers preparing or serving food, and greeters, must have completed vaccination.

Meals return this week with standard favorites like the signature beef barley vegetable soup, plus a gluten free beef vegetable soup, roasted chicken and gravy with egg noodles, grilled cheese sandwich, garden salad and assorted donated desserts from partners Publix, Earth Fare, Panera Bread and Crumbl.

Murfin expressed excitement that, while it isn’t entirely back to normal, it’s closer than his group has been in a long time.

“And we got to where we are today due to some mighty brave volunteers who risked their own health week after week after week to get food to those in need,” he wrote. “Truly neighbors helping neighbors.”

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John Marks graduated from Furman University in 2004 and joined the Herald in 2005. He covers community growth, municipalities, transportation and education mainly in York County and Lancaster County. The Fort Mill native earned dozens of South Carolina Press Association awards and multiple McClatchy President’s Awards for news coverage in Fort Mill and Lake Wylie.
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