Volunteer support, community teamwork integral in restarting popular program

The Forget Me Not Senior Center in New London had only a few open seats on Friday, July 28, as the fourth Friday lunch served in 2017 attracted dozens of people for fellowship and food after a yearlong hiatus.

The Friday tradition consists of a main course, green beans and mashed potatoes provided by the Forget Me Not organization, along beverages, carry-in sides and desserts. The meal is free and open to all ages, and donations help with purchase of the meats and other supplies. But one year ago, the organizers were no longer able to sustain the program. That’s when NorthEast Community Action Corporation (NECAC) Ralls County Coordinator LeAndra Bridgeman jumped into action.

Former Forget Me Not board president Raymond Dowell stopped by Bridgeman’s office a year ago, telling her the lunch program had been discontinued and the group had lost their volunteers. She immediately reached out for volunteers who could get the lunch program up and running again. In early spring, she found a manager for the Kitchen Committee, Angela Ledbetter. In May, the Forget Me Not board members and attendees voted to restart the Friday lunches.

Ledbetter joined Bridgeman, NECAC Board member Judy Statler and Marian Gallian to form a Kitchen Committee, taking care of purchasing ingredients, preparing meal items and cooking food each week. And with the variety of carry-in dishes, volunteers and visitors of all ages have a different meal to look forward to each week.

So far, the strong turnout for each meal and support has been putting smiles on volunteers’ faces. Statler said they received a record $245 in donations, including an anonymous donor who placed a $100 bill on the counter before lunch, telling Bridgeman they were “just a friend.”

Statler said the committee members were all excited that the lunches were being served once again. Each week, the tables are lined with people chatting and joking with one another. Statler said she hopes for even more people to visit during the winter. She commended the volunteers who have worked together so far, noting that committee members are seeking volunteers to assist with the weekly cooking duties.

“We’re glad that it started back up, it’s good for the community and it’s good for us as volunteers,” said Jerri White. “We need something to do. And the food every week is really different. Everybody brings their own. They are good recipes.”

For more information on the weekly lunch program or how to volunteer, please contact NECAC Ralls County Coordinator LeAndra Bridgeman at 573-985-2411. You can also visit the Forget Me Not Senior Center at 412 S. Main St. in New London or call 573-985-2491.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com