Shortly after the noon buzzer they begin trickling up the hill, the few individuals at first quickly turning into a full blown, hungry, invasion.
It’s mac and cheese Monday at the Wesleyan Church and students from the high school on Forest Street are on a well-worn path through the field to the Wesleyan Church next door.
Kyle Belden, youth pastor for Canvas Student Ministries at the church, began offering the occasional free meal to students attending the old high school on Parade Street three years ago.
With the opening of the Forest Street complex, Belden designated every Monday for the free meal. Word spread through social media and by word-of-mouth.
In recent weeks the number of students arriving for the childhood favourite topped 200.
Belden says it’s all part of being a good neighbour and that the students come for a number of reasons.
“Hopefully it’s a combination of the music, good food, the game room and it’s a place to hang out – especially if it’s cold or raining.”
He adds that there are also students who have an honest need for what he calls a nutritious, free lunch.
The event is something that much of the congregation becomes involved in – from donating hundreds of boxes of Kraft dinner, baking sweets for desserts, volunteering their time to prepare the meal, or donating gift cards for milk, butter and disposable plates.
“Because of that, this hasn’t been a huge cost to the youth ministry,” said Belden.
The meal is provided to the students totally free, with “no strings attached,” he says, adding that it’s an opportunity to show youth that the church is not a scary place.
Volunteers begin cooking 70-80 boxes of Kraft dinner at 10 a.m., with others pouring drinks and setting up the serving stations.
After lunch, many of the students stay to play pool or other games.
Three Grade 9 students shared their thoughts on Mac and Cheese Monday.
“I think it’s really cool because people, instead of staying around the school, can come up here and hang out and get a free lunch,” said Kevin Mullen
“It makes Mondays actually worth going to school,” said Will Devine.
“People who don’t have a lot of money, it’s really easy for them to just come and eat for free,” said Matt Hines.
There are approximately 950 students attending the high school. Although the church is serving several hundred students on mac and cheese Mondays, Belden says there is room for more.
“We’re learning something every week but we’ve kind of got it down to a well-oiled machine now.”