After 27 years, 'Food for Friends' program ends

"Food for Friends" coordinator Renee Vowinckel adds a carton of corn to a stack of food at the Clarion Community Action Center where she helps package meals. After 27 years, Food for Friends will serve its last meal on Dec. 18.

CLARION - After 27 years Clarion-based "Food for Friends" is closing down. Director Renee Vowinckel said the organization's last meal hot meal will be served on Dec. 18.

"Many factors played a part in the decision, including the declining number of guests each week, the realization that there are many organizations that provide food, and the cost of paper goods," said Vowinckel. "A major plus in the ‘continue to serve' column was definitely the great volunteers who faithfully provided a delicious dinner each week."

Vowinckel explained, "When Gina DeLair asked if I would take over this job, I was more than a little nervous, but the volunteers were so easy to work with. It was a more a joy than a job."

Vowinckel said Food for Friends was originally held the last Wednesday of the month for families who were on assistance.

The youth group from the Nevin Memorial United Church of Christ had served the dinners for six years, then the women's group took over. The church supplied all the food.

"Not only was food an important part of the dinners, but also fellowship," said Vowinckel. "It was hoped they would go to the church service following the dinner. A few people did."

That changed over the years.

"We found in the last several years people were coming in and sitting with their own group and no one was really talking," lamented Vowinckel. "There was no communication. They were ordering a lot of take-out food and they would leave so there was no fellowship.

"That wasn't what the program was meant to be. It was meant to bring the family together and to eat together."

Vowinckel said some children became rowdy and that bothered older people.

"They (the older guests) stopped coming," she said.

"Some of the people were becoming overbearing and demanding," she said. "It seemed as if they felt that they were entitled."

Vowinckel said each volunteer organization shopped, cooked, served and cleaned at their own cost.

"They were just being treated rudely," said Vowinckel.

The organizations that volunteered included the Catholic Daughters of America the Clarion High School Honors Program, Civic Club, Clarion Health Care and Rehabilitation, Clarion Rotary, the County Seat Restaurant, First Baptist Church, New Bethlehem First Church of God, First Presbyterian in Clarion, First United Methodist Church, Grace Lutheran, Hope Rising Church, Immaculate Conception Church, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, Nevin Memorial Church, Strattanville United Methodist Church, Wendy's Restaurant and Koinonia from Clarion University.

"They would rotate and cover the 52 weeks of the year," she said. "We originally served about 65 people a week and now we down to 30 or 40."

Vowinckel continued, "There are so many food banks now and so many places to get food. It is just such a different time.

"It had come to the time that it just wasn't really needed. It seemed like it had run its course."

Vowinckel said there are 16 food banks in Clarion County.

"We will continue to listen and, if there are people missing it, we can always start it again," she said.