Fresh Expressions is all about meeting new people in new places and in new ways. It is a relatively new movement within the church that has seen tremendous results in connecting people in extraordinary ways. However, some fresh expressions have been staples to a community for much longer than the time they have held the title of fresh expression. One of these communities is The Picnic Project in Sanford, Florida.
Celebrating their 10 year anniversary this August, the Picnic Project is a free community meal held every Sunday that is served restaurant style inside the First United Methodist of Sanford. Many of the 75-150 participants seen weekly have been attending for years and have grown a deep sense of community from within the group.
Ryan Bozeman, one of three Co-Directors of The Picnic Project explained that many of the volunteers are community members who have gathered together from all walks of life. The project began in a local park, but soon was looking for a new home after the park’s rental fee became too high for the group. First United Methodist Church of Sanford opened their doors and their kitchen to the group and has been home to The Picnic Project ever since. Ryan says that volunteers have gotten involved in many ways, from driving by and wanting to be a part of the action from hearing about the project in the local Rotary Club.
Each meal is prepared by these volunteers under the direction of Chef Mark Thompson, who also is the chef at the Dandelion Community Cafe in Orlando. The Picnic Project believes in addressing physical needs before spiritual and taking care of a person’s whole being with absolute dignity.
Florida Fresh Expressions intern, Savannah Hinde, sat down with a few community members to hear about their experience. She met two young girls, Shamiya and Alyessia who were excited to grow up and become “teachers, doctors, or work at the Sprint store in the mall.” These girls loved making friends at the meal and enjoyed conversing with new people.
One of Ryan’s good friends, Daniel, shared an amazing story about The Picnic Project. Community members have the opportunity to rideshare on a bus that assists individuals in getting to the community meal. One day, while on the bus, Daniel asked the driver to stop as he saw a man walking down the street and exclaimed “Stop! That is the man who robbed me last night!” Hesitantly, the driver stopped and Daniel jumped out of the bus. What did he do? He invited the man to The Picnic Project that afternoon. He said, “If he was desperate enough to rob me, he must’ve been hungry.”
The Picnic Project has deeply impacted the Sanford community for good and has brought people from all walks of life together for a meal every week. Stories are shared, friends are made, and good food is had by all. It is an event that takes hard work and dedication to complete and luckily they have amazing volunteers with hearts for serving their neighbors. Each person at The Picnic Project is treated with respect and dignity, just as we are called to treat our neighbors.