Shelter Meals

The Social Ministry Committee at Bethesda sponsors an evening meal once a month for the 75 men who sleep at Immanuel Baptist Shelter (Emergency Shelter Management Services), 645 Grand Avenue, New Haven (777-2522). The men range in age from 18 to over 60. They and the staff are friendly, courteous, and always very grateful for our work. Liz Harnett ( recruits meal coordinators to serve the meal the second Monday of every month. These instructions explain how to produce a meal from beginning to end — an interesting and satisfying experience, as the many people who have done so will tell you!

How to Prepare and Serve a Meal

Recruiting Helpers

You can put together a meal even if you’ve never done it before – it’s easy enough to do – but it’s more fun and better ministry if you include others, especially newer Bethesda members, even families with children. You’ll need people to plan the menu, shop, prepare the food, reheat the food (if you don’t prepare the meal on Monday afternoon), and serve.

Planning the Menu

The meal for the men should be hearty and generous, especially in cold weather, and include:

  1. A combination or separate servings of meat, starch, and vegetables . You can use the recipes found here, or consult one of your own cookbook’s “feeding a crowd” recipes. If you make a casserole-type meal, adjust the recipe to serve 100 (four pans). If you make separate dishes, plan for at least 75 pieces of meat (e.g., chicken leg-thigh combinations). If you convert a favorite recipe to serve 100 and it turns out well, send it to the church office for inclusion in this brochure!
  2. A lettuce, coleslaw, or fruit salad . Our basic Shelter-sized recipe for a lettuce salad is 3 big bags of cut up salad plus 4-6 cucumbers, 4-6 green peppers, and 4-6 tomatoes. If you can’t get the extra vegetables, get a fourth bag of salad. One large bottle of Italian dressing is enough to dress the salad. A nice fruit salad can be made by combining two 8-pound jars of mixed fruit salad with two 3 to 5-pound bags of frozen strawberries. Applesauce is good, too; add a little cinnamon for some zip.
  3. Bread. Purchase at least six big loaves of white bread and use soft margarine to make “butter sandwiches.”
  4. Dessert. The men are very appreciative of homemade cookies and bars – an easy form of dessert to serve. But consider sheet cakes and fruit crisps for a nice change that can be just as easy.
Assembling the Ingredients

We keep many routinely-used items in the kitchen, so take inventory first. You’ll find the dry staples in the cabinet under the coffee pots, spices in the upper cabinet on the outside wall by the back door, and soft margarine in the refrigerator. So, before you make your shopping list, check for:

  • Large disposable aluminum serving pans (you’ll need four for the main dish(s), two for the salad);
  • Aluminum foil to cover the pans for cooking and reheating (depending on your recipe) and for covering everything for transport to the Shelter;
  • At least one-third of a jumbo tub of soft margarine for the “butter sandwiches.”

Groceries usually cost between $120 and $150. You can choose to pay and be reimbursed (clip your receipts to a completed reimbursement request form (attached) and submit to Clare Couture in the Church office), or to request a signed blank check from Clare (787-2346). (Give her a week’s notice.) You may shop anywhere you like, but you may find it convenient and economical to go to BJ’s Wholesale Club (in North Haven, on Universal Drive, exit 9 off I-91). Bethesda has an institutional membership there; get the membership card from the church office. (Note: To use Bethesda’s membership you’ll need to pay with a Bethesda check.) In fact, you may want to get your own BJ’s membership – half the usual cost, a benefit of Bethesda’s institutional membership. (You can use your individual membership any time!) See Clare to sign up.

Preparing the Meal

Meal preparation usually takes about two hours. Most coordinators elect to prepare the meal after worship on Sunday and reheat it before serving on Monday evening. Bethesda’s Sunday bulletin announces who is preparing the meal and asks for additional food preparation and serving volunteers and dessert donations.

Experienced meal preparers recommend that you:

  • put water on to boil for pasta or rice before the service; it takes a while to heat a big pot of water
  • put the sandwiches back in the bread bags after they’re buttered for easy transport
  • dress the salad at the Shelter
  • check around for leftover sweets from other church events; sometimes they’re left in the freezer
Re-Heating the Meal

If you’ve made the meal on Saturday or Sunday and refrigerated it, re-heating it on Monday afternoon requires about 2.5 hours. Food put in cold ovens at 3:00-3:30 p.m. (at least 350 ° ) should be heated through by the time you leave for the Shelter at 5:30-5:45 p.m. Make sure you turn on both the ovens’ power (high) and temperature dials.

Serving the Meal

Servers should arrive at Bethesda about 5:30 pm – in time to load the meal into a car and make the seven-minute drive to the Shelter for the 6:00 pm start time. If you’re delayed, call the Shelter at 777-2522. Be sure to take (and bring back!) serving utensils and hot pads. Three people can handle the serving quite nicely – one or two for the main dishes, one for the salad, and one for the bread and to help the others. For directions to the Shelter, see the attached map. Parking can be difficult, so the car with the food should pull right up on the sidewalk in front of the Shelter; there is also parking alongside the building. When you get to the Shelter, go inside to let the staff know you’ve arrived; several of the men will then come out to help carry the meal in. The Shelter staff will have a steam table set up for you; there is room for four trays of food to be kept warm. Serve the salad and bread from the table next to the steam table. The men pray before the meal, then wait in line as you serve them; the Shelter provides paper plates and plastic utensils. Serving takes only about a half hour, including dishing up a couple dozen plates to set aside for latecomers. (The Shelter staff will initiate this.) After everyone has been served and the extra plates are made up, the men can come for seconds. Dessert is distributed last, and it works best to serve it at first to help ensure equitable distribution. Once everyone has had some, let the men just take what they want.

That’s all there is to it! We know you’ll find that it’s both easy and rewarding. Thank you for being part of Bethesda’s Meal Ministry!

Directions to Immanuel Baptist Shelter

  • Exit Bethesda’s parking lot and turn right/south on Whitney Ave.
  • Go five blocks to Humphrey St. and turn left/east at the Humphrey St. stoplight.
  • Follow Humphrey St. for five blocks, through the Orange St. and State St. stoplights and under the Route 91 overpass, to East St.; turn right/south at the East St. stoplight.
  • Follow East St. about three blocks, over the railroad tracks overpass, to Grand Ave. Turn right/west at the Grand Ave. stoplight.
  • Immanuel Baptist Shelter, 645 Grand Ave., will be on the right/north side of the street within the first block; if you go underneath the Route 91 overpass again, you’ve gone too far.

Google Map for Immanuel Baptist Shelter