Whoever said there’s no such thing as a free lunch must not have been a college student.
Students at Tyler Junior College will find no problems filling the hungry gap between Mom’s last care package and the next visit home with three student organizations offering weekly freebies.
“Anytime students can get something for free, that’s a good thing,” said Scott Nalley, TJC director of student activities.
Free lunches are offered Monday through Wednesday at student centers on Baxter Street as well as a weekly free coffeehouse. Sponsored by local churches and organized by the Association of Baptist Students, Baptist Student Ministries and the Methodist affiliated Wesley Center, these free lunches provide home-cooked or catered meals geared towards building community as well as keeping students’ stomachs from growling in class.
“Students enjoy coming to an environment where they know they’ll be provided for. They come for good food, good fellowship and good fun,” said Gayle Robinson, volunteer coordinator for the Wesley Center. “They feel at home here.”
All students are invited to the free meals, not just those affiliated with the sponsoring churches. Though crowds are smaller at the beginning of the semester, average weekly turnouts range from 60 to 250 students. Menus offer variety with tasty meals as simple as hot dogs and pizza or homemade fare such as fried chicken and spaghetti with meatballs.
“Sometimes the food gets exotic.” Robinson said that last year one of the Wesley Center’s sponsors cooked a gourmet meal of “coq au vin,” a French chicken dish with mushrooms and wine sauce.
James Neidholt, a TJC sophomore and student volunteer at the ABS, said the group tries to plan meals to make students feel at home. “When it’s close to a holiday, a lot of times we’ll have a special meal like turkey and stuffing around Thanksgiving.”
Each of the free lunches is accompanied by some sort of devotional, Bible study summary or speaker to introduce students to and involve them in the activities of the centers. The lunches also serve as opportunities for students to meet each other and take a break from studying.
“We’re here to meet the physical hunger needs as well as the spiritual needs of students,” said Carlson. “It’s a place to build lifelong friendships.”
In addition to the free lunches, the Wesley Center also sponsors a free coffeehouse on Thursday mornings, serving up gourmet coffee and espresso drinks made to order.
“Free food always brings fellowship. In college you don’t have a lot of money so they can have the free food and the fellowship,” said Tami Bell, a TJC student majoring in substance abuse counseling. “I also have two kids in college and anytime there’s free food, they’re there.”
Religious organizations aren’t the only ones feeding TJC students. Free food opportunities during Welcome Week and Homecoming Week routinely have great turnouts, said Nalley. Football season also brings with it the free tailgate parties offered by Student Activities at all home games.
“Sometimes students think there’s a catch, but there are no strings attached. Just show your ID and it’s free,” Nalley said of the tailgate parties. “We serve pretty much anything you can cook on a grill.”
When budgets are tight, these sponsored events sometimes mean the difference between a healthy meal, well-rounded to provide sustenance for a long night of studying, and whatever cheap snack students can find.
“Ramen noodles get really old after a while,” Nalley said.