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About 14 years ago, the bishop of the United Methodist Church issued instructions to all local churches to address hunger in their neighborhoods.

Vickie and Don Dumbeck sat in a meeting sharing ideas and decided that instead of just talking about it, they would do something. They assigned everyone in the church to bring a can of chicken noodle soup, picked up bread, and distributed fliers at the old homeless shelter and bus station. That first meal served 30 people.

They weren’t sure if their efforts were worth it, until “Shaky Steve” came up to them and said, “I’m so glad you’re here. I haven’t eaten in five days.”

That was the beginning of the P.A.L.M. dinner, run and housed by the United Methodist Church, which has continued for 14 years, unimpeded by the pandemic. P.A.L.M. stands for ”provide a loving meal.”

The Dumbecks emphasize the program isn’t just about feeding people. They share love for the hungry in their neighborhood. They know the people they serve and have seen people both overcome and succumb to addiction, get married, and tragically die through the years. They always light a candle when someone passes.

P.A.L.M. dinners are offered every Sunday and Tuesday in the basement of the United Methodist Church. They have many partners who donate food and help out. Some groups bring in a meal for one of the nights or offer to help cook and serve food already there. Others donate resources and food. A variety of different churches and groups have taken different nights and collaborated with United Methodist. Sacred Heart Catholic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are regular contributors.

What they serve depends on what donations they get. They have no paid staff. They aren’t funded by grants, just people in the community who care. The United Methodist Church offers the space, the cost of the utilities and some custodial work. Boxed meals are currently available to pick up, but they look forward to the day when they can get back out the tables and chairs and sit down together to rest, visit and offer support.

A variety of people access the meals. Located near a higher poverty area, they have retired people who come because they don’t want to eat alone at home, young people carrying their skateboards, elderly people who bring leftovers home with them to supplement the rest of the week and families who appreciate the extra help. They miss the days when they could sit at the table, drink coffee, and get to know each other. They feel like a family and know the names and the stories of the individuals they serve.

Holiday Market has been a great neighbor to them donating meat, baked goods, dairy products, and fresh produce. They have drastically decreased food waste with the program and are able to provide healthier options that aren’t always available for meal programs. The Dumbecks have seen amazing desserts and food brought in by individuals in the community.

At times they have felt like onlookers on the miracle of the loaves and fishes when, incredibly, the sparse food has stretched to feed a crowd. Just recently, they had the ingredients to make a Mexican meal and were just leaving to pick up some salsa when they received a call from Holiday that they had some fresh salsa to drop off.

Feeding 80-100 diners a night adds up to approximately 1,456 meals served and roughly 131,040 people fed.

Vickie and Don feel gratitude for the opportunity and state emphatically, “God has been so good to us.” They and United Methodist Church invite all to dinner. Drop by from 5-6:30 p.m. on Sundays and Tuesdays.