First ‘Joe Town Table’ meal a success

by Cori Hilsgen

Volunteer Marjorie Henkemeyer said they couldn’t have predicted the first “Joe Town Table” meal would take place on such a bitterly cold and windy day, but she and other organizers were very happy with the turnout on Jan. 25 at the American Legion in St. Joseph.

“It’s a wonderful turnout and people are warm and cozy inside,” Henkemeyer said. “It’s wonderful to see so many young people cooking and working together.”

More than 85 people came out amid very blustery conditions to enjoy a warm meal, meet other people and just get out of their homes.

Henkemeyer is the health and wellness minister for the Church of St. Joseph. She said she had visited with several people whom she thought seemed lonely and was glad to see them at the meal.

St. Joseph resident Mavis Bakken moved to the St. Joseph area about a year ago.  She sold her house in Sauk Centre and moved to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law. Bakken, the mother of two sons and one daughter, said it has been somewhat hard for her to meet people so she decided to attend the meal.

“I came to socialize,” Bakken said. “It’s a nice turnout (considering) the weather.”

About 15 volunteers were busy dishing up spaghetti and salad, pouring beverages and organizing dessert trays. One of the volunteers, Toni Hudock of Albany, was busy dishing up her homemade spaghetti-sauce recipe.

Gretchen Sitzer, a College of St. Benedict senior English and philosophy student, was busy serving beverages.

“It’s quite a privilege to be a part of this,” Sitzer said. “Service brings everyone together.”

Sitzer said she feels the best way to get involved and stay engaged is through community service.

St. Benedict Community Kitchen organizer Natalie Keane said she met local resident Dennis Stueve, who has lived in St. Joseph all his life. She said for people who are new to the area, people such as Stueve are a wonderful connection to make.

Cold Spring residents Joe and Ellen Chovan, husband and wife, attended with their friend Jack Schuh. Joe and Jack play pickleball together at Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud. The Chovans are members of Resurrection Lutheran Church, and Schuh is a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church.

“We are enjoying the meal very much,” Ellen Chovan said.

St. Stephen residents Tim and Mary Drake heard about the event when they were out sledding with their children (Elias, Isabel, Peter, Elena, Claire) and decided to check it out.

Mary Drake said they saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd.

“It’s very nice,” she said. “The young people serving are so friendly.”

Central Minnesota Catholic Worker Molly Weyrens was very pleased with how the first meal went.

“We have good momentum as we head into the next one,” Weyrens said. “This meal is but a first step in what we hope will be further conversations on how to create a healthier and more vibrant community for all.”

Weyrens said many partners are needed. They hope during the next few months they will have a better picture of where people are finding support and where there are gaps.

“No one should have to struggle alone, especially in a small community like St. Joe,” Weyrens said. “There are many generous folks waiting to reach out. We just need to work on organizing and mobilizing the generous spirit that’s here.”

Organizers of the event include the Central Minnesota Catholic Worker, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Gateway Church, St. Benedict’s Monastery and the College of St. Benedict Community Kitchen program and others.

These organizers hope to continue the event from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. the fourth Sunday of each month at the American Legion in St. Joseph.

For more information, contact

photo by Cori Hilsgen
Community members (from left to right) Mavis Bakken, Laryn Kragt Bakker, Danielle Taylor and Kate Ritger enjoy visiting together at the first “Joe Town Table” meal.

photo by Cori Hilsgen
CSB student Gretchen Sitzer helps serve beverages at the meal. Sitzer said she believes service work brings people together.

photo by Cori Hilsgen
Cold Spring residents Joe and Ellen Chovan attended the meal with their friend Jack Schuh. The two men play pickleball together.

photo by Cori Hilsgen
Jack Schuh attended the meal.

photo by Cori Hilsgen
Marjorie Henkemeyer (right) serves Jack Schuh dessert.

photo by Cori Hilsgen
Elias, Isabel and Peter Drake (left to right) attended the meal.

photo by Cori Hilsgen
Tim, Elena, Claire and Mary Drake (left to right) attended the meal.

Cori Hilsgen

Cori Hilsgen

Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
Cori Hilsgen
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