A Servant’s Heart: 30 Years of Dinner and Dessert
Bertha Masterson was the Coalition even before there was a Coalition.
Back in 1985, when First United Methodist Church of Orlando (FUMC) opened the doors of its fellowship hall to homeless neighbors for the night, Bertha and members from Concord Street Church of Christ made sandwiches and delivered them there for dinner service. They also helped serve the omelets, sausage, and biscuits that were served at breakfast the next morning.
FUMC, along with other downtown inter-faith organizations with a heart for serving, would later galvanize their efforts by forming a nonprofit two years later in 1987: Coalition for the Homeless of Orlando. The name changed to the current name of the organization, Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, Inc., in 1990.
Recently, Concord Street Church of Christ celebrated their 30th anniversary of serving meals to those who are homeless.
Bertha has seen the Coalition grow over the years, and has faithfully served dinner here through many changes, including the renovation of the WFTV Channel 9 studio that now serves as the Center for Women and Families, and both the construction and demolition of the Men’s Pavilion. Other than a three-month period in 2008 when she broke her leg and arm, Bertha has faithfully served dinner with Concord Street Church of Christ at the Coalition each month.
Bertha said that at first, it did not dawn on her Concord was celebrating such a huge milestone.
“It just slipped on me. I didn’t realize it’d been that long,” she said.
After 30 years of serving meals, Concord has their processes down to a science. The cost of serving meals is even included in the church’s budget.
Everett Hardwood serves as the church’s meal service coordinator.
“Everett coordinates all the food and leads the charge. They’re a great group,” said Jeffrey Miller, the Coalition’s director of food services. “Some groups bring in prepared food, but they cook from scratch. They’re here for three to four hours when they serve.”
The menu hasn’t changed much over the years: baked chicken, potato wedges, peas, and fruit salad. The volunteer crew prepares the meal on-site, with the exception of the cakes, which are a whole project by themselves. Bakers at Concord are given boxes of cake mix, a cake pan, frosting and sprinkles to take home. The freshly-baked cakes are brought to church the night before it serves at the Coalition, and Bertha, also known as the “church cake lady,” delivers them to the kitchen the next day, where they’re cut into individual servings.
On serving day, Bertha tastes everything to make sure the food is delicious – the wedges can get a bit salty, she said. Ice cream used to be on the menu, until the little ones insisted on having their dessert first. These days, church volunteers offer different flavored cake slices for the diners to choose after the meal.
Jeff said that the group goes several steps above and beyond what the Coalition asks for during a meal service. They’ve streamlined their dinner service, he said, but manage to put a personal touch on the meal service at the same time. Small gestures, like buttering the bread portions before they’re served, show their kindness in a big way. “The Concord volunteers have a lot of one-on-one interactions with the clients, especially around dessert time. Typically groups set up a dessert table, but they actually plate dessert and serve individually from a tray.”
For Bertha, serving as the Coalition is a simple matter of feeding those who might otherwise go without. “We just kept doing it because it was a needed thing,” Bertha said simply. “We just heard these really sad stories…we wanted to help them.”