Volunteers at the First Christian Church in Medford are more interested in feeding than preaching at their weekly free meal.

Volunteers at the First Christian Church in Medford are more interested in feeding than preaching at their weekly free meal.

Pastor Alicia Speidel said the meal is open to all who seek a hot meal, no matter their religious affiliation, or whether they are religious at all.

"There is no proselytizing here," she said Thursday, as volunteers buzzed around her with heavy pans loaded with macaroni-and-cheese and pulled pork. "We don't hand out material for our church. All anyone receives is a free meal and some good company."

The meal is served every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the church, 1900 Crater Lake Ave. Signs announcing the meal are posted outside.

The first meal was hosted in September and catered to 37 diners, most of them church members and their families.

Since then, the meal has bloomed to 150 people snaking their way through the buffet line manned by church volunteers.

The church took its cue from Silverton First Christian Church, which has been offering a free community meal for three years.

Speidel admits the meal is an ambitious undertaking by her church. It requires a lot of volunteer hours to tackle each week.

"We buy the food through donations," she said.

Four cooks rotated duty on Thursday. They loaded an industrial-sized oven with comfort food to warm it, then trucked the food to serving tables in the church's community room.

Volunteer cook Marsha Cummings said the meal can take days to prepare.

"A lot of us still work full time," she said. "We started the night before for this meal."

Because the food is based on donation money and whatever ACCESS Inc.'s food bank has to offer, the menu rotates weekly.

"This is not like a restaurant," Cummings said. "You don't know what you're going to have from week to week."

The church recently was granted a loan for all new kitchen gear, including the oven.

The last oven was an "antique" that had an interesting history, Speidel said.

"The church won the oven in a contest sometime in the '50s, I believe," she said.

Two weeks ago, church members found an old newspaper clipping of the oven confirming it was given to the church in a contest.

"It was here for decades," Cummings said. "We are glad to have the new oven. It makes the meal so much easier."

Meanwhile, the church has reached out to Jackson County's culinary community and scored some professional chefs to head the meal.

Dale Fowler, the executive chef at the Rogue Regency Inn, prepared last week's meal.

Valerie Walker, the head pastry chef at the Peerless Restaurant & Bar in Ashland, prepared desserts.

Speidel said the meal is frequented by people who don't know where their next bite of hot food might come from.

"But we also have people who can afford to eat out, but would rather sit down and socialize with the community," she said.

Sarah Blanken lives in an apartment complex along Crater Lake Avenue and made the short walk to the meal Thursday night.

"They do a good job here," she said. "They don't care who you are, they just feed you."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or by email at cconrad@mailtribune.com.