Café 361 feeds the community, but it’s about so much more than food! This program is for middle school girls (6th, 7th and 8th graders) who gather at the church for an entire afternoon about twice a month. The girls and their adult leaders cook all afternoon, then serve a meal to about 50 people in our community, many of whom have been personally invited by the girls. While food is at the center of what we do, Café 361 is mostly about building self-esteem, teaching life skills, bridging cultural differences, introducing positive role models, and encouraging the girls to be good students and citizens. Our objectives are to make friends, strengthen relationships and increase confidence. We hope to learn how to select recipes, cook on a budget, use common, low-cost ingredients in new ways, and learn about international hunger issues. The students have been successful in lots of ways and now are a focused group of junior chefs. Cafe 361 serves a meal on “early release or no school days”– when the Cedar Rapids School District dismisses early or closes for teacher in-service sessions. About 50 guests are served during each session. Reservations are required by calling the 319-366-3876, or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org Our history During the summer of 2013, middle school girls affiliated with Boys & Girls Club met at First Congregational UCC. Throughout the summer, the church staff and the girls got to know each other, and we brainstormed about how we could continue to strengthen our relationship during the school year. We considered several ideas, then agreed to get together occasionally for an afternoon of cooking. From there, the girls came up with a vision for serving others, researching recipes, learning new skills, working together, and having fun. Café 361 was born! The name comes from the church address, 361 17th St. SE. Girls do not have to be enrolled in Boys & Girls Club, nor do they have to be members of First Congregational Church, to participate. The program is free for participants. Throughout the year, we may take a break from cooking to learn about world hunger issues, kitchen skills and career options. Through it all, we hope to have fun, learn from each other, recognize our gifts and talents, explore what it means to be a disciple as we serve others, and follow Jesus’ commandment to “Feed my sheep.” This is our first year, so our budget is a work in progress. Our suggested donation from each guest is $5. We have received generous gifts for the program and some funding will come from the First Congregational UCC youth ministry budget. Café 361 is a church-sponsored, faith-based program. People of all faiths and all beliefs are welcome here. In the kitchen, before we greet our guests, girls and leaders have the option of joining a prayer circle, where we ask the Lord’s blessings on our time together and give thanks for our guests. In Fellowship Hall, before we serve our guests, we have a moment of prayer and give thanks for our food, the hands that prepared it, and those who will share the meal. Cafe 361 will partner with community businesses and agencies, which will provide guest speakers and tours of businesses to supplement our cooking activities. You can visit Cafe 361’s website at http://www.cafe361.org/.