The fragrant aroma of chili, various types of soup, coffee and other goodies wafts from the door of the First United Methodist Church basement. Inside are groups of friends, family members, church and community members who have gathered inside the warm confines of the church basement for the institution's monthly Friendship Soup Lunch, a time for fellowship and a warm meal.
"It's an opportunity to see our neighbors in the community and have good food ... We have a good time," said church member Ottis Allen, one of three men dishing up chili and soup for patrons on Friday.
"No one goes home for awhile, even after they eat," he said. "They not only enjoy the food but everybody's company."
One of the organizations within the church, such as the United Methodist Men, the United Methodist Women and the church's mission committee, host the meal each month, and members volunteer their service to prepare and serve food. The United Methodist Men sponsored the Friday meal.
Assisting Allen during lunch Friday were Don Tucker and John Staples, who have been part of the events for several years.
Organizers request a free-will donation, with proceeds going toward the organization that hosts the lunch for use "where it's needed," Allen said. The Rev. Ken Van, pastor of the church, said donated funds help with church expenses and the United Methodist Men ministries.
The repasts are open to anyone in the community and patrons are welcome to go through the serving line more than once, Van said. People stop by during their lunch break and many come and go during the hour-and-a-half event.
Van said he doesn't see the gathering's primary purpose as being a fundraiser.
"I just look at it as a time of fellowship," Van said.
Local residents Jerry and Judy Witt, owners of the nearby Cheney Witt Chapel, are not members of the church but have attended the gatherings pretty regularly for several years to socialize with friends and help the church.
"We try to make most of them," Jerry said. "They're just close and they always have good food. We try to help them out a little bit, too. It's fellowship and convenience. We like to meet people and help with whatever organization of theirs is doing."
Witt said the event appears to be drawing more people over the years.
"It sure seems like it's growing," he said. "They've put in extra tables at the back."