Ravenna’s First United Methodist Church serves lunches to those in need

Kent State volunteer Lindsay Kaminski stacks chairs after Loaves and Fishes lunch Feb. 9.

Michael Indriolo

For three years, Naomi Muster curiously eyed Dougey’s sketchbook. Dougey, who’s on the autism spectrum, and his father, who has dementia, attended Muster’s church, Ravenna’s First United Methodist Church, every week. He clutched his sketchbook tightly against his chest every time Muster asked to see, but when she introduced him to a Kent State volunteer, his book opened within minutes. 

“When the Kent State students started coming in, you should have seen the smiles on their faces when someone young would come over and talk to them,” Muster said.

Muster, 80, and her sister have hosted Loaves and Fishes, a weekly free lunch program apart of Ravenna’s First United Methodist Church, for nearly 15 years. They provide food, temporary shelter and most importantly companionship to dozens of people every Saturday, like Dougey and his father.

“We have some people that have come all 15 years,” Muster said. “Part of this is you don’t have to be homeless, you don’t have to be without food. If you’re lonely, come on over and join us.”

That companionship dignifies Loaves and Fishes patrons, she said, because it gives them a second chance. 

“If you hear you’re a second-rate citizen all your life, you begin to act like one,” Muster said. “So you don’t want to look anybody in the eye and talk to them because you don’t know how you’re going to be treated. They started up that way, but they’re not that way anymore.”

That kind of genuine care and attention, especially from young students, can transform people, she said as one woman named Easter Gibson-Maximovich approached her.

“Let me tell you about this lady,” Muster said. “A couple years ago, she didn’t care about anybody, and she didn’t even know herself a lot of the time. You don’t know how many hours we spent praying for her because you just have to look at her to see there’s something good there. When there’s something good there, you don’t give up.”

Muster’s faith in Gibson-Maximovich inspired her to change her life, Gibson-Maximovich said. Muster stood by her through alcoholism and drug addiction, when other community leaders lost hope.

“If we claim to be Christian, how can we turn our back on somebody?” Muster said. “You have to learn to put your money where your mouth is. If you can’t love Jesus, then don’t say you’re a Christian.”

Muster’s unconditional acceptance extends to even the most difficult community members, Gibson-Maximovich said.

“They come in stoned and drunk, but she still shows them love,” she said. “She still gives them the benefit of the doubt that they’re going to change. Everyone pushes them away and shuns them, but Naomi doesn’t.”

Neither do Kent State volunteers, Muster said. Sophomore accounting major Gianna DeTemple and sophomore general business major Lindsay Kaminsky cleaned tables and put chairs away after spending their afternoon Feb. 9 talking with Loaves and Fishes regulars.

“It’s important to me that they feel they can trust me and that I’ll be there for them,” DeTemple said. “It makes me feel humbled and grateful for what I have.”

Volunteer groups and students from Kent State have kept Loaves and Fishes going, Muster said. While Ravenna’s First United Methodist Church’s board of trustees was initially hesitant to greenlight Loaves and Fishes, the community’s support showed them how important it is to people, she said. There have been hectic times throughout Loaves and Fishes’ 15-year lifespan, but Muster said she won’t quit because for some, Loaves and Fishes is life changing.

“To see somebody come in and worry about how they’ll be treated and then somebody gives them a chance; it’s wonderful,” Muster said. “I think friendliness conquers everything. If somebody knows you care about them, they relax, and they can change.”

Michael Indriolo covers social services. Contact him at [email protected].