Stepping Up to Serve

Legacy Community Center supports locals with hot meals, charitable resources

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Agnes' Table
Agnes' Table

In May, the Legacy Community Center in Chippewa Falls received a ton of corn on the cob – literally more than 2,000 pounds – as a donation. Almeada Sullivan, the meal coordinator at Agnes’ Table, expected 10 boxes; the organization received more than 40. When they arrived on Friday, the center’s busiest delivery day, Executive Director Rebecca Al-awdi took it in stride, hauling box after box of the stuff into the kitchen and the food closet, and reaching out to other local support organizations to find homes for the excess.

“Anybody can walk in off the street and find out anything they want to know about the nonprofits in the area, and they can get their basic needs met at the same time,” – Rebecca Al-awdi, Executive Director, Legacy Community Center

The Legacy Community Center officially opened its doors at 26 W. Grand Ave. in Chippewa Falls in August 2018. It’s a small office space from which Al-awdi and six core volunteers provide intake and social support services to people of all ages, in all economic situations, and from anywhere. All of the services the center provides – including a clothing closet, a food closet, a meeting space, and resource connections – are absolutely free to anyone, no questions asked. Right next door in the same building, Agnes’ Table provides one free meal, and a place to socialize and stay out of the weather, every weekday to the community.

“Anybody can walk in off the street and find out anything they want to know about the nonprofits in the area, and they can get their basic needs met at the same time,” Al-awdi said.

On breakfast days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), Agnes’ Table guests play cards and sip coffee in the booths before heading up to grab a bite to eat from the continental-style breakfast buffet. Thanks to partnerships with Walmart, the Chippewa Falls Farmers Market, Fleet Farm, and more, they are able to provide the occasional steak or salmon supper. The venue looks so much like a normal restaurant that occasionally, diners ask for the check only to realize for the first time that anyone can have a meal for free.

“We make meals because it’s hard to cook in a tent, or a car, or hotel even,” Sullivan said. But it’s also about providing a place for people to get out of the hot summer days or cold winter mornings, and a place to spend time with others. Agnes’ Table hosts monthly bingo games and cookie-decorating sessions where people of all ages come together. In April alone, the restaurant served more than 1,200 meals.

Sullivan estimates that this represents about 150-200 individuals, however it’s more difficult to track that number. She knows most visitors by name, and during her three years working for the organization, she has watched several kids graduate from coming by with their parents to walking over on their own to grab a meal.

The Legacy Center itself is home to a reception area, the food closet, a clothing closet, meeting rooms, and more. The entire operation runs out of about 2,200 square feet – that’s why Al-awdi calls it a food “closet” instead of a pantry. The Center provides about 1,200 pounds of food every week to 25-50 families. They are the only pantry in the county open on Saturdays, which means it’s the busiest day of the week.

Anyone can use the meeting space, which can be set up for conference-style meetings or interactive circles. They display digital flyers for local events and support services on a large screen. The clothing closet provides free clothing for adults preparing for interviews or for changes in the season. In the front of the building is an area where objects such as small furnishings and home goods are available. A small corner in one office is dedicated to trinkets, small statues, and decorations; kids can stop by and pick up free gifts for their loved ones for any occasion, and staff will help them wrap up the treasures.

For visitors in need of more specific assistance, the Legacy Center serves as a great starting point.

“Our intake and referral process allows us to not only know all the different agencies in town, but also get people connected with them rather than them having to find it themselves,” Al-awdi said. She knows from experience that it can be frustrating finding the right agency to provide a service. People can sometimes be shuffled from agency to agency, only to give up when things seem hopeless. The center’s intake program takes the guesswork out of the process.

“Everybody knows that if they’ve got someone they don’t know how to answer a question for, they send them to us,” Al-awdi said.

More than 80 organizations volunteer time and money to Agnes’ Table to feed the community, and countless more volunteers, businesses, churches, and individuals bring in a steady supply of food and donations. “We had volunteers coming out of the woodwork,” Al-awdi said. “Everybody wanted to get involved. … You know you’re doing something right because the community backs you.”

Al-awdi and Sullivan do their best to cooperate with other area organizations to provide the most comprehensive services they can. When there’s excess – the Legacy Center recently received more than 4,000 boxes of cereal as a donation – they reach out to other pantries and meal services to share the wealth.

“We all have to support each other,” Sullivan said. Al-awdi pitched in: “No one should have to work harder; we should all just be working together.”

UPDATE: On Wednesday, May 29, the board released a statement announcing the closure of the Legacy Community Center.  Agnes’ Table will remain open at 24 W. Grane Ave to provide free meals for community members. The establishment is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 7am-1pm and Tuesday and Thursday 2:30-7pm.  

More information is available online at legacycommunitycenter.org.