When it comes to meals, Flowing Oil Café has a perfect record.
"We've never run out of food," coordinator Virgil Roark said Saturday evening, January 26. "These teams have no idea how many to prepare for but, in 15 years, they have never run out of food."
The average attendance is 70. There have been at least four instances when more than 100 showed up for a meal. The highest number, 123, came to a meal at Faith Reformed Presbyterian Church in 2012.
Experienced groups of volunteers can handle the uncertainty.
"When you get teams who have done it all these years, they know what to do, even though you never know how many will show up," Roark said.
The café, celebrating its 15th year, offers free meals from September through June every year. The meals are hosted by five churches across the Southern End; the food is provided and prepared by teams from local churches.
Most of the teams have years of experience fixing and serving meals for the café. When a new team joins the program, members of the program's supervisory board help them with their first meal.
One team, the Knights of Columbus from St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, serves two meals each year. Encounter Church has three teams, each of which serves one meal. Other congregations prepare and serve one meal a year.
Flowing Oil needs one more team for the 2020 season, Roark said.
A team scheduled to prepare the second meal in February dropped out at the end of 2018. That means the program will have to recruit a new team and that a meal will not be served this February 23.
Although the meals are free, some people have been leaving donations.
The contributions first appeared at an early meal, Roark said. "We got a jug and put flowers in it. Someone pulled the flowers out and put money in," Roark recalled.
The committee that supervises the program uses that money to buy cups, plates, napkins, and other table supplies, he said. At the end of the year, some of the surplus is saved to start the following year's program and some is donated to the Solanco Food Bank.
"Typically, we give them $400 to $500 a year," Roark said.
The program started in 2004 and, at first, had trouble attracting a dozen people to the meals. The numbers started rising shortly after the first meal was served in April, 2004.
The numbers rose most quickly during the winter of 2007-08, when the Great Recession started.
Flowing Oil Café's next meal will be served at 5:30 p.m. on February 9 at Memorial United Methodist Church, 101 S. Hess St., Quarryville. The public is invited to attend.