For 13 weeks this summer, The Salvation Army Niagara Falls, Citadel Corps held Monday BBQ and Bible study events. These gatherings allowed members of the community to get to know their neighbors, enjoy some summertime food, and, if they wished, stay for an outdoor lesson on the teachings of Christ.
“During the summer of 2022, the corps had already done 10 summer outdoor feedings for the community,” says Major Andrew Murray, corps officer at Niagara Falls. “We looked at the program and asked how we could build on that ministry. If all we were doing was feeding food, we weren’t doing enough as an Army. We needed to feed the Word of God too.”
This summer, the Monday meals were made into more than a barbecue. The corps put up a tent over picnic tables, both to give the event a more festive feel and to keep it going if it rained. Corps volunteers were asked not just to help with food preparation and serving but also to sit with people, eat with them, and get to know them.
“In the process of that, a volunteer would casually say, ‘I’m staying afterwards for Bible study. Will you stay with me?’” says Major Andrew.
The Niagara Falls Citadel served 2,606 people in those 13 weeks, with half of them staying for Bible study on the parables of Christ. With a new parable discussed every week, someone could come for one day and have a full lesson.
“Something we really wanted to do is remove a stigma that comes with going to a soup kitchen,” says Major Andrew. “The people we were seeing at the barbecue were the same we saw at the soup kitchen. But there’s no stigma in attending an event like this one. It can give someone a certain level of dignity when, instead of bringing their family to a soup kitchen, they bring them to a barbecue. That’s a fun social event. By altering the message a little, we increase the number of people we help.”
Stigmas build internal labels that can hurt someone, explains Major Andrew. “There’s something inside them that says, ‘This is all I am.’ BBQ and Bible study removes those labels, because it’s a welcome to everyone from the community, no matter if they’re food insecure or not.”