Inviting the community for a free meal is part community service and a lot of fun for the stalwart volunteers who show up every Thursday to cook, serve and clean up.

More than 60 individuals arrived for the free Thursday evening dinner at the Pacific Presbyterian Church Nov. 2.

“That’s about average,” said Becky Reed, who chairs the event and does most of the cooking.

Diners enjoyed Salisbury steak with gravy, corn, green beans, applesauce, dinner rolls and dessert.

Many of the diners left carrying away bags from Save-A-Lot grocery store that contained all the fixings for a holiday meal.

Every Thursday, from August to May, the same group of loyal volunteers gather in the church service building to prepare a meal for anyone in the community who wants to come.

The program was started to offer a meal to those residents who might be in need, but everyone in the community is invited, Reed stressed.

“It’s a community dinner and it’s more than a meal,” she said. “It’s a great way to enjoy homecooked food and visit with your neighbors.”

The program started six years ago in partnership with another church. But when the other church withdrew, Pacific Presbyterian decided to continue the Thursday free dinners on its own.

Three years ago, the church planted a community garden on the site next to the manse to grow vegetables for the weekly meals. Reed uses the garden crop to can peppers, pickles, salsa and squash to aid the last-minute menu each week.

“I don’t plan a lot ahead,” said Reed, who formerly worked in school cafeterias. “I usually decide on Wednesday what we’ll serve on Thursday and post a menu Thursday morning to let the workers know.”

She said the weekly meal is a mission project for the church that is open to everyone in the community.

“Many people in the community do need help with food, but for some returning diners this is their night out,” Reed said. “My husband and I cook, but it takes a big crew to make it all work. The same volunteers are here all the time.”

In addition to the free hot meal, one local grocer aligned itself with the program by offering its customers the chance to buy supplies for the holiday meal for another community member.

Some 45 bags, with tops stapled closed, were stacked on a table at the head of the dining area. Save-A-Lot grocery packs the bags with brownie mix, biscuit mix, gravy, green beans, corn and cranberry sauce and offers them to customers who pay for them.

The store then delivers them to the Pacific community dinner for distribution to anyone who needs or wants one. The bags will be available through November.

“We had many more earlier,” Reed said. “I think there were about 100. People in the community buy these and Save-A-Lot delivers them to us so we see this as the community helping each other out.”