Article Contributed by
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
One morning a week in downtown Jamestown, an unlikely group of people gather together in the undercroft at St. Luke’s Church for coffee and donuts, laughter, and conversation. The “4th Street Café” opens its doors on Thursday mornings from 9 to 11am each week, offering fellowship and a friendly smile to anyone who wants to drop by.
“Sometimes we get as many as 30 people, sometimes only 10 or so – it depends on the day.” says Shauna Anderson, one of the volunteers who assists with the café. “It is quite an eclectic group. We get downtown residents looking for some company or something to do as well as business people looking for a break in their work day. Income and living situations have no real bearing on who might show up. It is different each week.”
The relationships between regular café-goers have developed into quite a strong community that keeps in touch with each other outside of the regular Thursday AM meeting time. This fact was evidenced by the strong turnout at their recent Christmas Party, that was held at Friendly’s Restaurant in late December.
The annual Christmas Party is sponsored by St. Luke’s Bishop Overs Guild, who cover the cost of breakfast ordered off the menu for each attendee. The past few years, each guest has also received a “care package” of items donated by St. Luke’s parishioners.
Café participants sometimes even become volunteers, like JoAnn Porterfield, who started attending the Café when she relocated to Jamestown several years ago, to be closer to family.
“I started coming for the company – it got sort of lonely in my apartment.” she says. “After a while I began to help out regularly as a volunteer. Eventually I became part of the community, and even started coming to church on Sunday and singing in the choir.”
The Rev. Luke Fodor, Rector of St. Luke’s, notes that church membership is not a requirement to attend the 4th Street Café, although participants are often looking for some kind of spiritual connection. He feels that the weekly gatherings meet that need on a very basic level.
“Sometimes it is tempting to imagine that church is all about sermons, songs and sacraments—but the 4th St. Café proves this all wrong.” Fodor says. “Church is relationship. Church is people coming together to share stories and their lives, to form a community of caring people who desire the best for each other. Over donuts and coffee, the 4th St. Café brings folks from all walks of life to form church. Some struggle with poverty, some with mental illness, others with addiction and still others with being vulnerable—but all of us come so that we might find our common humanity and the divine spark that each of us carries.”
Unfortunately, volunteers are needed to help this growing community remain strong and healthy. The café is currently organized by a small group of individuals who work together each week to help set up and clean up, make the coffee and pick up the donuts. Volunteers donate a few hours of their time, usually once per month. The team consists of retirees as well as people who work full time that are interested in serving their local community.
“We do what we can, with what we have.” Says Ms. Anderson. “The group of people that coordinate the café are enthusiastic and generous, but there just aren’t enough of us. We could really use additional people to help keep the program running strong. Volunteers do not need to be members of St. Luke’s – we welcome anyone in the community to join us. The time commitment is small, but the rewards are immeasurable.”
Volunteer Sandy Harle agrees. Ms. Harle originally started helping at the café when she retired, but continues to serve even though she has returned to the workforce part time. She encourages others to volunteer as well, noting that she feels that the personal benefits that she receives far outweigh her commitment.
“I think I get as much from the café as the participants.” she says. “I really enjoy visiting with everyone, and It only takes a small amount of my time – just once a month – but it is definitely worth it. The connections that I have formed and the stories that some of these wonderful people have shared with me are awe inspiring.”
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is located at 410 North Main Street, Jamestown. 4th Street Café meetings are accessible via the building’s Fourth Street entrance. Interested individuals are invited to attend the weekly meetings as participants and/or volunteers. There is no cost to attend.
For more information about volunteering for the 4th Street Café, call the church office at 716-483-6405.