SANDWICH – Fred Beckman of Hinckley saw a sign while driving through Sandwich and decided to stop.
The sign outside of Country Girl Food Services in Sandwich advertised a free community meal, a monthly Blessings Buffet.
Beckman has been attending the Blessings Buffet with his son, Paul, since the meals began in October.
“I think I was just looking for a place to eat dinner and came across the sign,” Beckman said. “We’ve been coming back every month because it’s a good meal, good food and good company – and it’s free. I think it’s a great idea and very nice.”
The free Blessings Buffet takes place at Country Girl Food Services, 108 E. Railroad St. in Sandwich, every third Sunday of the month at 4:30 p.m. The next Blessings Buffet will be Sunday, Feb. 16.
Kathy Hanson, owner of Country Girl Food Services and its restaurant and catering business, said she started the free meal, which is open to everyone in the community, because she “understands what it’s like to fall on hard times and struggle.”
“I raised four boys, and I know how expensive it can be to take your family out for dinner,” she said. “The poverty rate in Sandwich is about 40%. I started the meal so that families can come and eat, no questions asked.”
Hanson said about 30 people come to each Blessings Buffet and usually stay until about 6:30 p.m. During some dinners, as many as 50 people have attended, staying as late as 8:30 p.m.
The menu changes every month and features three meats, salads, protein, starch, vegetables, baked beans and dessert.
Special requests can be made, and fried chicken and pasta have been guests’ favorites. Holiday options, including turkey in November for Thanksgiving and ham in December for Christmas, have been served.
“Everything is freshly made, the same we would do for any event, such as an office party or wedding,” Hanson said. “Our goal is for everyone who comes in to feel welcome, exactly as they’d feel going to any other restaurant on a Sunday night with their family.”
Jean Mowery of Plano attends the monthly meal with a group of friends from Fox Valley Older Adult Services.
“We love coming because the food is always great and there’s a friendly atmosphere,” Mowery said. “I like that it’s a community dinner and everyone is welcome.”
Catering manager Rhonda Theurer said her favorite part of the Blessings Buffet is seeing families come together over food.
“I love seeing families sitting around the table and eating,” Theurer said. “They put down their phones; they eat fresh, homemade food and spend time together.”
Jackie Buldak of Oswego and her husband, Tom, volunteer at the Blessings Buffet every month, getting drinks and clearing off tables.
“We do it because we enjoy helping others and socializing with people we might not otherwise meet,” Jackie Buldak said. “It’s a gathering place for family and friends, and the food is excellent. Everyone is friendly, and Kathy welcomes and talks to everyone that comes.”
Guests who stop by the buffet not only get a free meal and drinks, including soda and coffee, but they also can enter into a raffle to win a catered lunch for 10 people.
“Country Girl has been around for about 30 years, starting from my house in Oswego, expanding to a food truck, catering and the restaurant,” Hanson said. “Anything food, we can do. Our specialty is ethnic foods, including pierogi, kolaczki and kringla, and we’ve done ham and kumla dinners. Our fried chicken is always a big hit. I think the only thing we don’t do is pig roasts, but I know people that do them.
“My hope now is help spread the word about the Blessings Buffet. I’d love to see it grow. It’s open to everyone and anyone in the community, no questions asked. Come on in. There’s always lots of food to go around.”
The Country Girl Restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays for brunch and some Saturdays. For more information about the restaurant, catering or Blessings Buffet, call 815-786-0146 or 815-341-5786 or visit www.countrygirlfoodservicesllc.com.
Source: The Daily Chronicle