Vicki Hughes of Marion is nominated as an Everyday Hero for her longtime work in feeding the area’s food-insecure population. She and others featured in this occasional series will be honored Friday at the Everyday Heroes Breakfast Awards Ceremony at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, 7225 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids. Tickets are available at www.hooplatix.com.
They say a lot happens around the kitchen table. Vicki Hughes would agree.
In 1987, Hughes and several members of First Lutheran Church sat at her table to discuss Cedar Rapids’ homeless population. The conversation was prompted by the church’s new minister, the Rev. Peter Devino.
Before addressing his congregation, Devino spent several nights on the city’s streets to better understand people’s needs. From this experience, he learned that free evening meals were provided Monday through Friday and Sunday, but not on Saturday. Hughes and other members of the Community Concerns Committee were tasked with finding a solution and the Saturday Evening Meal Program was born.
Hughes has served as SEMP’s food service coordinator from the beginning, working with 22 teams of cooks, servers and cleaners to serve around 500 free meals to the area’s food-insecure population each month.
“Typically, we serve about 100 people early in the month,” she says. “The number increases as the month continues. We give out toiletries on the last Saturday of the month — shaving cream, toilet paper, that sort of thing — so that drives up our numbers.”
The Saturday Evening Meal Program is held every Saturday night, rain or shine, winter blizzards or summer heat.
“We once served meals during an ice storm,” Hughes recalls. “Only 30 people showed up to eat, but they had a hot meal.”
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It’s still happening even as the church undergoes a renovation project, with the food cooked off-site and transported to the annex for serving instead of in the church kitchen.
“At First Lutheran, we believe the Lord put us in the middle of Cedar Rapids to serve Cedar Rapids,” Hughes says. “We’re located in an area where there’s a lot of need.”
Hughes will “retire” from the coordinator position in January, but she won’t go far. She’ll remain a cook captain well as a cook sub, meaning she’s available to fill in if a cook can’t make it.
“It’s nice to be recognized as an Everyday Hero, but what’s most important is that the program is recognized,” Hughes says. “It’s a dependable constant that wouldn’t be possible without the work of so many.”