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by Tom Forbes, long-term Dragon Café volunteer
Dragon Café began after Hurricane Katrina, as a way to provide hot meals and fellowship to our parishioners who, like so many others, were without kitchens or even houses. It was our church’s response to immediate community needs early on, along with those of the other Episcopal churches who all pitched in. St. George’s, with a history of feeding people from our kitchen and fellowship hall, was asked by the Diocese to fill that role for the larger community.
In the “frontier days”, we provided dinners in the evenings, to whoever walked in, including also those wonderful volunteers of all ages (but mostly college and high school students) who had come down to work with various organizations, helping clean up, gut houses, and give us some moral support. Many of them heard of, and came to, the Dragon Café for dinner after a hard day’s work.
Back then, with some generous grant help from the Episcopal Church, we were able to serve dinners two nights a week. As the years went on, it was time to turn to self-funding, and we evolved to one night a week, and for the last few years, it has just been Sunday morning breakfast (breakfast costs less, so our café funds go further.)
We are now almost at the 12-year mark, who expected it would go on this long? But it has become a mission at St. George’s, and one which blesses not only those who receive but those who serve. For many of us who gave service, Katrina had been a rough time, and some of us found ourselves in the position of accepting outright charity for the first time in our lives. The Dragon Café, where we cooked, served, and cleaned, gave us a chance to try in some small way to pay back those who had been generous to us, and to understand what a “big” community St. George’s really is.
From the outset, our mission has been to provide a place not only of food, but of fellowship, dignity, and love. The café atmosphere we try to give our guests helps nurture that fellowship, and also shows our many volunteers in a deeper sense who our hungry diners are, as well as who we are ourselves, and how God watches over us and takes care of us if we take care of each other. Our volunteers are not only church parishioners, but local and visiting volunteers from all over, whether church (or synagogue), civic groups, social organizations, or schools. Donations go 100% to operating the Café, as we have no paid staff.
Most of us never expected this feeding ministry would last this long, but with God’s help it has and has become a part of St. George’s, and of our parish and community.