A Little History About the Dinner Bell
When I was asked to find somewhere that did community outreach
to donate some of my time and write a paper about, I panicked a little. There are so many programs that do wonderful things in our community, so many worthwhile causes to donate some time to. So, I sat down to brain- storm and see if any seemed more important to me than the rest. The Din- ner Bell, that’s run at “The Brown Church”, kept swinging back into my mind.
What could be more important than bringing people together and making sure they had good food and good company? Wasn’t that what my childhood desire, to run a restaurant, was based on? With my decision made I started to hunt online for information and was disappointed with the available pieces that I found; so, I got in touch with the church hoping they would help fill in some of the missing blanks. I was put in touch with Melody, and she was unbelievably helpful. She dredged up historical information and spent half an hour or so sitting with me, even though she was busy, she never balked at offering me help. This is what I learned.
The Conway Village Church was originally called The Second Congregational Church and they moved to their iconic brown steepled building in 1906 but they were founded in the 1880s. They have always had noteworthy outreach programs. From youth groups, Sunday schools and bowling leagues to name a few. But to me, the most notable is the Dinner Bell, which was in the beginning stages of planning in the 1980s, around the same time they started the Food Pantry. These were started by Reverend Lee Bayer with some encouragement from many folks from the community. With some support from local businesses, even some support from Tri- County Cap in the beginning.
By June of 1991 the Dinner Bell was averaging about 130 people per week, 6,240 meals in a year! They even had some anonymous donors so they could do a second night of the week during the coldest months of winter. In 1992 there was an article in the paper, “Approximately 20,000 meals in two years.” Everything that was needed for the Dinner Bell to run was, and still is donated, from food to labor. It wasn’t long before this inspired others. Today there are free community meals in many area towns; Fryeburg, Wolfeboro, Center Ossipee, Tamworth, and Center Conway too.
The Dinner Bell is still growing. In 1991 they were averaging 130 people a week, 6,760 meals in a year. In 2019 they continue to serve approximately 6,000 meals, that’s about 125 per week. Cur rently the Dinner Bell operates with the help of approximately 35 volunteers every week, some of whom have volunteered since the very beginning. The Food Pantry has also bloomed serving 23,725 meals by September of 2019. Currently, there are approximately 23 volunteers helping out at the Food Pantry. Each Monday the ‘Brown Church’ opens their doors and invites people to sit and eat, to talk and socialize. They have the option to donate a couple dollars if they want to, but it’s never required. They even offer eggs, breads and baked goods, donated by Hannaford, with each meal that you can bring home for later. The USDA and the NH Food Bank also provide food for the meals. The people who run this program have added another family kitchen for our community to gather around, which can only be a good thing.
As for volunteering my time, I look forward to getting a call so I too can help the community. I think it’s safe to say that the organizers and coordinators of The Conway Village Church outreach programs are both motivated and incredibly talented. What they do is simply amazing.
Written by Heather Cunningham
Student, White Mountain Community College