With an experienced chef in the kitchen, fresh tomatoes just picked from the garden, and a maître d’ to welcome guests, Heavenly Harvest is less like a typical free meal and more like an enjoyable dining experience. Open weekly on Thursdays at noon, Calvin Presbyterian Church transforms its basement from a fellowship hall into a dining space where community gathers and all are fed. This lunch is one aspect of the Matthew 25:35 Project, a joint ministry initiative of the Calvin, Overbrook, and Ardmore churches. With significant funding from the Presbytery’s Covenant Fund, Heavenly Harvest serves an average of 50 meals each Thursday. Chef James Mitchell (“Chef James”) has been serving healthy, savory meals in this church basement for the past 3 years. Stirring his sauce for the day’s chicken parmesan, he claims, “It’s a great time; a great opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives.” Once a vegan/vegetarian restaurant owner, making nutritious, satisfying meals comes easy to him; and the results don’t disappoint.
Located in the Carroll Park neighborhood of West Philadelphia, this large stone church stands proudly on the corner of 60th and Masters Street. Neighbors are warmly greeted by Overbrook church member, Kenneth Carroll, who keeps a tally of how many people are joining them for lunch. The atmosphere is light and friendly, as Heavenly Harvest is clearly a place where community gathers, friends are greeted, and stomachs are filled. “This church really cares for the children,” claims a passer-by standing across the street.
As lunch preparations kick into full-gear, volunteers from Overbrook and Ardmore are sent to the garden out back to pick cherry tomatoes for the salad. The garden is yielding plenty of vegetables this year, and stands as a proud addition to the Heavenly Harvest. Birthed from Ardmore’s own gardening ministry, Elder Mary Van Lowen began this garden to provide fresh produce. In addition, Heavenly Harvest has made connections with Shop Rite, Giant, and Whole Foods to provide healthy ingredients for their weekly meals.
As neighbors and friends gather in anticipation for lunch, conversation is pleasant and bright in Calvin’s basement. In a side room, Calvin members sort through clothes that have been donated, placing the neatly folded items on tables for diners to take as needed. Deacon Craig Croker walks upstairs giving a quick tour of the expansive sanctuary which reveals beautiful wooden pews and an expansive ceiling that blurs the line between ordinary and holy. But on this day the sanctuary is empty; the space is quiet, the candles on the communion table unlit. The children of God are gathered around tables downstairs instead, where bread is broken, body and soul nourished; creating sacred space out of an old church basement. “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)