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Church offers more than free hot dogs

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Oct 14, 2020

From left, Katie Swaney, Scott Varney, Steve Chitwood, Robert and Cindy Fitz, Mark Bausman, Joe Bougher, and Gloria and Ed Rohlfing at the North Fort Myers Church of the Brethren, giving away hot dogs and cold bottles of water. PHOTO PROVIDED

news@breezenewspapers.com

Who doesn’t love hot dogs?

At the North Fort Myers Church of the Brethren, at 1691 Pacific Ave., Wednesday is hot dog day. It may not be the same as going to the ballpark, but you can go to their hot dog stand and pick one up to enjoy.

Every Wednesday afternoon from noon to 4 p.m., you can go to the church, receive a free hot dog with all the condiments and also enjoy some encouraging conversation and fellowship and even share a prayer or two.

The church began giving away hot dogs in May (once the state started lifting the COVID restrictions) as a way to bring the community together and give those who have lost so much during the pandemic something to eat.

Mark Bausman, former pastor at the church, said it began not for the hot dogs, but for the water.

“We live in a struggling neighborhood and with COVID it’s struggling more. Some homeless friends told me the hardest thing to find was a cold glass of water,” Bausman said. “I started to pass out cold glasses of water and I also happened to like hot dogs, so I passed them out to anyone who came by.”

The church hands out about 50 hot dogs each Wednesday and, since the program began, has distributed more than 500. Volunteer Cindy Fitz said they are getting donations of water and money from supporters.

The weekly event has been a tremendous success, with many weekly regulars and new people dropping in. Some have even decided to make the church their home, returning at 6 p.m. that evening for Bible study and on Sunday morning for worship service at 9:30 a.m.

“We used to have five or six people at Bible study on Wednesday night and now we’re up to 22. Sunday has grown about the same,” Fitz said. “A lot of them are coming as a result of hot dog day.”

Joe Bougher, the new pastor who started last week, said there was a vision at the church to become a bigger force in the community, which was why he decided to come.

“They had a real vision and I loved it. When I heard Mark’s vision, I praised him up and down. The vision is outreach,” Bougher said.

The church also has a small pantry and has received a grant from the national church to bolster their services. Once the church determines it can handle the potential crowd, they will expand it through the media.

The community has been very supportive and has expressed the desire to see this ministry continue.