Rice & Beans at River West Church: Ellie’s Story

How do you feed Rice & Beans to 200 people at a time? Ellie Hatzi figured it out during Lent 2017. As the leader of the kitchen and hospitality crew for the Sunday evening service at River West Church, she was used to overseeing a weekly supper for the congregation, but simplifying that supper to a Rice & Beans theme was a new idea. In the following interview, Ellie shares about the impact of Rice & Beans on the River West congregation and on her personal life as well.

So, Ellie, knowing all that it takes to serve dinner to the church every Sunday night, what was your initial reaction to the idea of doing Rice & Beans for Lent?

I jumped on it! To be able to show people that you can eat like this and it can be delicious and it can be fun, plus to be able to help people in East Africa and help them find ways to overcome their malnutrition and their food issues, I thought that was a wonderful way to be able to serve.

What stood out to you about the response of the church community?

I think what was most encouraging was that the community embraced it so fully. We didn’t have anybody complaining, including kids. I thought the kids would be all sad that we didn’t have dessert every week, but nobody said a word. They were complimentary, they were excited about it, and I was very surprised by that!

When I first started here (at River West), I came in thinking, “I’m a trained chef and I can do all this wonderful food.” It was very humbling for me to realize it was never about the food. People come here to hear the Word, they come here to sit down and share a meal, and it’s so beyond the food itself. It is about community, it is about the family, it’s about developing relationships, it’s about thanking God for all our gifts, and doing all that together as a church community. Having the food… it keeps people here. It’s the glue that kind of holds everybody together.

How did this Lenten experience affect you personally?

My husband and I were so moved by how the community reacted to it that we decided that we would continue this on a weekly basis at home throughout the year. So we made our little “Rice & Beans Jar” and every week we make one simple meal of rice and beans or some legume and grain. We prepare it together, and then before the meal, we put our money we saved in the jar and then we pray. We give thanks to the Lord for what he’s given us, for the meal in front of us, and we pray for Lahash International to continue doing what you’re doing and making such a difference in the world, and we sit down and enjoy our meal. And it warms our hearts, it’s probably our favorite meal of the week! So by next Rice & Beans Month, we’ll have this big ol’ jar of money to give to Lahash! I’m very excited about that.

What would you say to other churches considering trying Rice & Beans as a congregation?

I would definitely say just do it! What came out of it was the beauty of the whole community feeling part of something that’s so important. The food is simple to prepare, it doesn’t take a lot of effort, it doesn’t take a lot of money. You’re actually saving money and you’re able to donate it. It’s just a way to bring your community together and have them do something that’s so supportive of others in need.

It’s not too late to get a group from your church, or even your whole church, involved in Rice & Beans Month during March! One meal a week together is a great way to create fellowship opportunities while helping to feed the hungry in East Africa. Email us at info@lahash.org and we can answer any questions you have and send you some resources to get started.