SHERIDAN — Grace Anglican Church Pastor Kevin Jones felt a need to serve students after Sheridan High School student Kaycie Garner’s brother, Kolter Garner, died by suicide in 2015. Jones longed for students and close friends impacted by the death to understand there is always someone who cares.
“It’s just our way of letting these guys know that someone loves them, someone cares for them,” Jones said.
Jones conducted Garner’s funeral and saw the hurt and pain in friends and classmates.
So Jones reached out to Garner’s aunt on a Wednesday and extended a hand to Garner’s closest friends. Two days later, Jones had six donated Papa Murphy’s pizzas to feed children and a place for students to gather outside of school.
Free Food Fridays grew from 20 people the first time to around 90 people. The group of freshmen who came for the first time in May 2015 are now graduating and have been coming for three full years. Jones and a crew of volunteers served the group of seniors a steak lunch after sharing the Bible story of the prodigal son who returned to his family farm after defying his father’s orders, and the father responded by slaughtering and serving a fatted calf.
“Today, we killed the fatted calf,” Jones said. “The father is always waiting for us to come back to him.”
Jones said as the event has grown, community businesses and volunteers have stepped in to help with costs and hosting the event each Friday. Papa Murphy’s still donates pizzas once a month; Burger King donates burger meat to cook; and earlier this school year The Pony Grill and Bar donated and cooked chicken wings and hamburger sliders for around 90 students.
On normal Free Food Fridays, SHS students enter the building, grab a bite and hang out with peers before heading back to class. Students run on a bell schedule, so they race to beat each other to the line.
“It’s cool to see kids running into a church,” Jones said.
The church used to be a country club clubhouse and sits across Fifth Street from the high school. The building came with tables and chairs and a full kitchen, allowing the “perfect storm” for Grace Anglican members to serve SHS students.
Many students have been attending Free Lunch Friday for years. Bren Steel started going because she attended youth group at Grace Anglican. She invited her friend Ashley Phillips and another, Taylor Bowie, started going because of friends, too. Bowie hadn’t gone to church before coming to Free Food Fridays but now attends Bethesda Worship Center.
“It’s nice because they’re not (pushy),” Bowie said. “They’re just like, ‘This is what God’s grace is like,’ and shows you what God is like in a very subtle way.”
Jones makes it a point not to run out of food to exemplify God’s unending grace for his people.
To help support the outreach efforts, Grace Anglican will host a parking lot sale fundraiser Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1992 W. Fifth St.