First United volunteers John Chenicek and Bonnie Novak serve guests at the church's warming center and soup kitchen.JOHN RICE/Contributor

When it comes to feeding the hungry and clothing the less fortunate, members at First United Church of Christ take Jesus’ admonition literally. For the past three years, the church at 1000 Elgin has hosted a warming center on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Now that our streak of freakishly warm weather has ended, more people are taking advantage of a place where they can relax in comfort after a hearty meal.

The menu on Martin Luther King Day included spaghetti, beef vegetable soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, cake and coffee. A recipient entertained the crowd with his guitar.

Volunteer Bonnie Novak, mentioned that the church has also donated coats and warm clothing to those in need. The sanctuary has a banner that says, “Live in his Love.” Every Sunday, members demonstrate this love by bringing groceries for the Forest Park Food Pantry.

The church also partners with the Community Center to help families that are hurting. On Dec. 15, they hosted a Christmas Party for 17 families the Community Center had identified. The congregation joined them in singing Christmas carols and sharing a meal before distributing gifts.

Bonnie came to First United four years ago at the invitation of her 6-year-old granddaughter, Moriah. They were walking past the church when the young girl expressed a desire to attend Sunday school there. Moriah has since moved out of town, but when she’s visiting grandma, she gives thanks to be back in Forest Park at “my church.”

The church could use more members. There are currently 75 and it’s been a financial struggle to keep the heat on and the doors open. Nonetheless, the members dig deep to serve those who are struggling on the streets. On a typical Monday, they get 8-15 people stopping by to fill up and warm up. Tom Scholtens and John Chenicek are among the volunteers who cook and serve.

Pastor Dean Kucera also lends a hand. Four years ago, Rev. Kucera brought his dynamic preaching and considerable musical skills to First United. He likened the church’s Monday ministry to the feeding of the five thousand. The church members can’t multiply loaves and fishes, but they can re-enact the miracle by sharing with others.

Rev. Kucera maintains that you can’t feed a person’s spiritual needs until you’ve fed their physical needs. He sees the warming center/soup kitchen as a non-traditional outreach. It’s bringing church to people who may not attend church. John Chenicek added that it also assuages the members’ guilt about enjoying their twice-a-month congregational meals.

Currently, there are 5-6 volunteers manning the church on Mondays. They rely completely on donations to continue their ministry. Those wishing to donate, volunteer, or are in need a warm meal themselves can visit the church at 1000 Elgin or call 708-771-8456.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.