USF Methodist organization increases interest with free food

This Story was originally posted in the Digital Bullpen.

Since Jennifer Smith was hired as the executive director of the University of South Florida’s Crosswinds Wesley Foundation in January 2007, she has developed the non-profit organization by transforming a dormant building into a place where students are reaching out to other students by offering free weekly meals.

The Crosswinds at USF on Sycamore Drive is a branch of the United Methodist Church and is just one of the several denominational groups on campus. It holds student-led groups every night of the week that study various things about the Bible, but the most popular event is the Monday night dinner that feeds anywhere from 80 to 100 people each week. Several Methodist churches in the area support Crosswinds by providing the food for the Monday night dinners. They all take turns to either prepare homemade meals or pay to have the dinner catered by a variety of local restaurants.

Not long after arriving at Crosswinds, Smith came up with the idea of a free dinner to get students in the door.

“When I got here, I kind of had to start from scratch,” Smith said. She and a small board composed of student leaders are in charge of coming up with new ways to reach out.

“When you walk in this place, our desire is that you are treated with such hospitality and such love and kindness that you can’t help but to know that this place is different,” Smith said. “We are showing students that God cares about them on a practical level by giving them free food with no obligation, no strings attached. It’s just a place to bring your friends, come hang out, and just do something fun.”

Jennifer Bruce, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, is one of three interns working at Crosswinds this semester. As an intern, Bruce is responsible for cleaning up the facility before and after events as well as promoting the upcoming events around campus.

“Every Monday at 7:15, we all eat dinner,” said Bruce. “It’s a warm, home cooked meal. We’ve had anything from baked ziti to BBQ chicken to breakfast to, well, anything. I like the fact that we have almost a steady stream of new students at least trying Crosswinds, at least coming in and listening to worship, even if it’s just once. We are here to feed you and show you love that way.”

Danielle King, a junior mass communications major, started faithfully attending events at Crosswinds a year and a half ago when one of her roommates invited her.

“I love the community and hearing God’s word spoken,” King said. “It’s such a loving and friendly environment.”

Smith and the student board at Crosswinds are constantly coming up with new ideas to reach out on campus. She now plans to expand the free dinner operation by bringing food to students instead of waiting for the students come to her.

“In a couple weeks, we are actually going to one of the dorms and bringing over homemade lasagna just to meet some other new students and show them kindness in a practical way,” Smith said, “so keep an eye out for that.”