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Friendship Room keeps serving meals to hungry despite outbreak

News Photo by Julie Riddle A bag of food waits for whoever needs it at the Friendship Room at St Bernard Catholic Church in Alpena Wednesday.

ALPENA — Lunch in a bag is better than no food at all.

The Friendship Room, a volunteer-staffed kitchen that provides free meals six days a week to whoever needs them, is still feeding hungry Alpena residents from its home at St. Bernard Catholic Church on Chisholm Street.

While Michigan shelters in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, St. Bernard volunteers have been told to stay home unless they insist on coming.

Many of them do, in fact, insist, said Mary Jack, one of the Friendship Room’s organizers.

Instead of the usual, family-like atmosphere at meal time, food is now pre-packaged in paper bags and placed on a table, inches inside the building’s doors. Anyone who needs food can take a meal and quickly head back out, staying a safe distance from anyone else in the room.

“We feel a little bad about a cold sandwich and a bag of chips,” Jack said.

Meals at the Friendship Room usually include hot, healthy food and a dessert. While the dining options may be simpler now — Wednesday’s menu was a turkey sandwich, tomato-basil soup, a pumpkin bar, and a bag of chips — it’s important to keep it coming for the 70 to 80 people who still come for food every day, Jack said.

“There’s a need there, or they wouldn’t come out,” Jack said.

The Friendship Room has plenty of food, at least for the time being, she reported, and is being supplied by restaurants who have food to spare after takeout orders are picked up.

The number of customers increases every day, volunteers said Wednesday, but they plan to stay open as long as there’s a need.

“Randy (MacAulay, Friendship Room director) said he’s not stopping unless the pope tells him to,” Jack said. “So I guess we’re going to keep going for a while.”

As of Wednesday, there were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, or Alcona counties.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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