Agape Café guests invited for food, stay for fellowship
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – For the past seven years, guests have been treated to a free three-course meal Thursday evenings at the Agape Café, located in the lower level of the First United Methodist Church. Though the café was closed the past two summers, it will remain open year-round now that it’s under the direction of Hudson residents Cindy DeRuyter and her husband, Dr. Brian Lisse.
“Our regular guests were disappointed when we’d close,” DeRuyter said. “I’m concerned about how warm the building gets in the summer with no air conditioning, but we’ll use fans and serve meals that won’t need the oven much. Maybe we’ll do picnics.”
Agape Café was founded by Carolyn and Ron Paskovitz, who utilized the experience they gained with similar projects elsewhere.
“Carolyn and Ron had done soup kitchens in one form or another in different towns,” DeRuyter said. “When they moved to Hudson, they wanted to start one here. After doing this type of work for over 25 years, they were ready to take a break.”
DeRuyter and Lisse, both of whom were already active as volunteers, began managing Agape Café in September 2012. They’ve seen the program evolve over the years.
“Our intent was to serve people who have a financial need, and it has become much larger than that; it has become a family,” DeRuyter said. “There’s a huge social aspect to this. There are probably some people who don’t need this financially as much as they need this socially.”
The café is regularly attended by a diverse group of guests, ranging from residents of senior housing complexes to families with young children in need of assistance.
“The term ‘agape’ is an old Greek word that means unconditional love of God,” DeRuyter explained. “We don’t proselytize here. There’s nothing religious about this, but the church gives us the space. It’s just about trying to spread love to people.”
Doors open Thursdays at 4 p.m. for social hour, when guests mingle and play cards. At 5 p.m., the guests are served dinner at their table by volunteers.
“We try to make it like an evening out for them,” DeRuyter noted.
They also take into consideration the guests’ special dietetic needs.
“Because I’m a nurse and my husband is a doctor, we’re open to catering to individual needs,” she said. “If anybody has an allergy, we usually have an alternative. The diabetics get sugar-free desserts.”
Among the volunteers are Hudson High School students, participating as a Community Service Learning (CSL) project.
“We have high school kids as servers,” DeRuyter said. “It’s wonderful to see how a young guy with a pierced nose and a Mohawk can be so respectful to these elderly people. And the guests learn that the student is a regular, good guy, and they develop a relationship. A lot of the students come back even after they’ve met their requirements of CSL.”
Food costs are covered by grants from Project Bread, Hudson Benevolent Society and Hudson Community Food Pantry. When the Friends of the Wood Park Music Shell recently disbanded, they donated its treasury. Some of the volunteers and parishioners also give monetary donations. Twice monthly, the Hudson Girl Scouts provide homemade desserts.
Agape Café hosts various celebrations such as holidays and guests’ birthdays. When the bike of a young boy who attends regularly was stolen, volunteers replaced it with a new one.
In December 2012, the café was the setting for the wedding of its current directors, DeRuyter and Lisse, officiated by the Rev. Michelle Grube.
“It was beautiful,” DeRuyter said. “We got married here because the guests and volunteers have become like family.”
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