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Led by Coordinator Dennis Ahlvers, seven churches are continuing to serve free meals to those in need during the pandemic via the Stone County Loaves and Fishes program.

Despite the pandemic, seven churches in Stone County have rallied together to continue serving daily meals to local residents as they make their way through the Branson area’s annual slow season. 

For around a decade, Love INC. was the organization behind the annual Stone County Loaves and Fishes program, which offers free meals and daily fellowship to folks in need. After the nonprofit closed its doors in 2020, Dennis Ahlvers, a former Love INC. board member, strived to keep the program alive for those who needed it.

“As a past board member for Love INC, I had kind of taken over the Loaves and Fishes in Stone County in the last few years anyway, and I did it as a Love INC board member. So I could see the demand over the years of the people that were needing it,” said Ahlvers. “Of course we run January, February and March every night of the week, and that is the three months of course when Branson is shut down. For Silver Dollar City, that’s the time that they’re shut down and that effects a lot of the people that are needing these meals and the demand there.”

While he’s serving as coordinator of the program, Ahlvers said he’s actually wearing two hats.

 “I also am over one of the seven nights at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. That’s where I’m a member. I’m also the head of the meals at that location, plus keep it organized amongst the six other churches as well,” Ahlvers said. “One on Monday night and then the other is every night of the week to help out or anything anybody needs.”

The program runs seven days a week now through March 31. The daily meals are being served at the following locations from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.:

–Sunday: New Hope Church of the Nazarene, 37 Leigh’s Way in Reeds Spring;

–Monday: St. Andrew Presbyterian, 30 James River Road in Kimberling City;

–Tuesday: Our Lady of the Cove Catholic Church, 20 Kimberling Boulevard in Kimberling City;

–Wednesday: Life Song Church, 360 Emerson Road in Reeds Spring;

–Thursday: First Baptist Church of Kimberling City, 161 Heavens’s Way in Kimberling City;

–Friday: Kimberling City United Methodist Church, 57 Kimberling Boulevard in Kimberling City and

–Saturday: Church of Christ, 7 Northwoods Drive in Kimberling City. 

Due to the pandemic, Ahlvers explained that, in order to still make the Loaves and Fishes program work, they had to make a few major adjustments.

“We set it up to be to-go boxes only. It’s curbside. You drive-up. As far as the group and everyone’ concerned, it’s all going to be to go,” Ahlvers said. “We used to say come in and have some fellowship. Now we can’t really say that this year. Sometimes some people just need somewhere to go and get out and visit and eat with somebody, but this year, that’s not true.”

Since the closure of Love INC., the churches have taken it upon themselves to pay for the meals and supply the volunteers, but Ahlvers said this year Love INC is still contributing, in a way. 

“Before Love INC had left, we had purchased a bunch of the paper products, like the to-go boxes, plates and silverware,” said Ahlvers. “So Love INC is still helping out somewhat there, even though they’re not even here. But each individual church supplies the manpower and the cost of the food and drinks and everything.”

When asked about any qualifications people need to meet to receive a free meal, Ahlvers said it was important that folks remember the following.

“Everyone welcome. No qualifications needed. So anybody that’s sitting at home and wants to drive and get a meal, we don’t check anything. You just come up and say I need five meals or how ever many meals you need, and that’s what we hand out,” said Ahlvers. “Anybody can come and get it. We’re welcoming anybody.”

In 2020, Ahlvers said they served a total of 4,050 meals, and 705 different volunteers helped to make the program happen between all of the seven churches. As of press time, Ahlvers said they’ve served a total of 748 meals so far in the first few weeks. 

If the Reeds Spring School District cancels school, the meal for that night will be canceled. For the churches who host the meals on the weekends, canceling the meal due to weather will be up for them to determine. 

For additional information contact Ahlvers at 785-564-0523. 

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