— Do you know where your next meal will come from? Many Jefferson County residents don’t. But a group of engaged citizens works hard every day to make sure they do.
Jennifer Prusha is one of those lending a hand. The Ranson Elementary School teacher and member of Covenant Baptist Church in Shepherdstown (WV) serves as a monthly meal volunteer with the Jefferson County Community Ministries (JCCM) cold-weather shelter program. Prusha runs the First Friday meal at St. Thomas Lutheran Church (Charles Town), which offers a free dinner to homeless people living in the community.
“Many of the churches in Charles Town own a certain night of the week to serve a meal,” Prusha explained. “St. Thomas Lutheran Church serves a meal every single Friday of the year, even during the summer. I asked the church if I could take over one of their nights to give their volunteers a break.”
That was several years ago, after a reading in a small group study left her feeling inspired and motivated to make a difference. “I vividly remember the words, ‘I can’t help the homeless, because I don’t know any homeless people,’” Prusha recalled. “I realized this is often the case, because we don’t challenge ourselves to get to know people who are in different social circles, age groups, demographics. I knew I needed to change that.”
Soon after her small group study, Prusha attended an informational meeting about developing the Jefferson County Homeless Coalition (now part of JCCM). She jumped right in, helping to build the cold-weather shelter program and serving on the board for a time.
“I’m just an average citizen with a desire to help tackle some of the ongoing social issues in our community.”
The cold-weather shelter program, hosted by various churches in the county, runs from October through March, but the meals are provided 365 days a year.
Prusha mainly utilizes social media to organize her designated night. She created a Facebook group, originally for immediate friends and family who wanted to help, where she crafts a menu each month and asks members to sign up to serve or drop off food. The group now boasts 87 members.
The First Friday dinner usually serves anywhere between seven and forty people. Prusha sees many regulars each month, and remarks that it feels like seeing old friends.
“Spending time with members of our community who I wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise is rewarding,” she expressed. “I feel like I’m helping, not just with a need for food, but companionship—being someone who will listen to their stories.”
While the holiday season encourages charitable joy, Prusha recognizes that it can be difficult to recruit committed volunteers throughout the year. To keep the program going, she believes JCCM needs a solid network, a central location for meals, and eventually a permanent shelter.
“I think it’s important for the community to get involved; this is our city, and it’s what we make of it,” she stressed. “We need to step outside our comfort zones, love one another, and be part of the change we’d like to see.”
— Kristyn is a freelance writer living in Charles Town, WV.