"There is always someone with you, God. You sometimes wonder, when you are in the middle of things, why am I doing this? Is it helping? But God is always there helping you and me. Life is a journey with God." That is the perspective of Barb Lindbloom, who has been actively involved in Southeast Pierre Community Center and Church for 20 years. For 15 of those years, she served in a leadership role.
It all started 35 years ago with The Banquet—a hot meal served to anyone in need of nourishment. The Ministerial Association began the dinner on Thursday evenings in Pierre, South Dakota. At the time, Keith Heinly, a church and community worker with The United Methodist Church, wrote a grant and received $5,000 from the Global Board of Ministries to get the Pierre Banquet started. It was held in the basement of city hall.
"There was no kitchen of any kind for cooking, so volunteers had to cook the food somewhere else and carry it down to the basement. There was no elevator," said Barb Lindbloom. "They had to carry everything out and clean it up. They had a hard task for a couple of years."
An old Quonset hut in Southeast Pierre became the new site for The Banquet. The place was aging and needed repair. It was torn down and The Dakotas Conference purchased the land and built a new building with a kitchen. The building became the new home for The Banquet and several other outreach efforts to community members.
Keith Heinly, who served in Pierre, South Dakota, shared, "We built the facility first as a community center for Southeast Pierre. Then, the Southeast Pierre United Methodist Church moved from its old facility into the center, and the church was a mission to the community. The Community Banquet (based on scripture) is still a place for worship and fellowship."
The Dakotas Conference wanted to create a place for people to be welcomed. It was a universally-accessible building– a place where children would gather to play games and a new home for The Banquet. In 1990, a church building was added.
"The pastors became the director for the center and, of course, led worship and other ministries at the church," said Lindbloom. "We never had to advertise. It was word of mouth. If somebody knew about it and they knew somebody that needed meals, they invited them. For many years we have served between two and three thousand people."
The Southeast Pierre Community Center and Church were served by appointed pastors, deacons, and church and community workers. They each brought ideas for outreach and expanded the ministry. One example is Busy Bees, held every Monday through Friday from 5-7 p.m. It was a program for elementary-age children.
"We would start with a meal. We'd have fifty or sixty kids come in, feed them, and then play games," said Lindbloom. "There were adult volunteers who came, and the kids loved it! They would love to play games and go outside with the volunteers. As long as they had an adult in their life, they were happy."
The program grew and was divided into age groups. Monday nights were for middle school or older girls and Tuesday nights were for older boys. In addition, an afterschool program was launched.
"Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays they would come in and they could bring their schoolwork," said Barb. "We had several retired teachers volunteer to help. The students would come, and they could either get help with their schoolwork or read. They could also play. The only stipulation was, read to one of the volunteers before playing. A lot of them would bring their homework to get it done."
Several churches throughout the Dakotas Conference supported the efforts of the Southeast Pierre Community Center and Church.
"If we needed funds or specific items, we would ask, and a church or the Pierre community would respond," said Lindbloom. "Whenever we thought we didn't have enough money to do something, we would just go out and talk to people about it and somebody would make a donation."
Annually in the fall, United Methodist churches in the area would hold a Mission Fair to raise funds for hunger grants. At the Mission Fair, funds were raised by auctions of quilts, church banners, homemade canned goods, baked goods, and handcrafted works. Southeast Pierre Community Center was a recipient of Hunger Grant funds.
When the pandemic hit, in-person programs and worship halted. So instead, the center began serving The Banquet as a takeout meal. An average of three hundred meals are served each week.
The church ceased worship on February 27, 2022. In July 2019, the leadership team at Southeast Pierre Mission United Methodist Church assumed pastoral duties. The reality was that no pastor was available, and there were limited finances. After meeting with District Superintendent, Rev. Bob Ruedebusch, it was decided to close the church.
The Southeast Pierre Community Center plans to remain open. However, the center will shift from an agency of the Dakotas Conference to a nonprofit community agency. A new governing board of people in the communities of Pierre and Fort Pierre, South Dakota, is in place to take over the center's leadership.
The weekly Banquet will continue; hopefully, other programs will start again. A review of community needs will help decide the main priority.
Lindbloom is grateful for the opportunity to serve. "You serve one person at a time. If you can help one, maybe they can help you. I feel it's time for somebody to come in with new, younger eyes and see different things."
Al Roll, missional impact coach for the Dakotas Conference, shares these words of thanks, "Thank you, Barb, for all your service. We are grateful for the ministry of Southeast Community Center and all who have served there. We look forward to partnering with the communities of Pierre and Fort Pierre. Well done, good and faithful servants!"