Sunshine Supper early years

Volunteers wrap silver wear during one of the first dinners.

About five years ago, Julie Wiedmeyer was sitting in a master’s class and got an assignment to figure out what needs there were in her community of Sun Prairie and to identify a way to meet those needs.

She started asking around and heard a hot meal would be helpful, especially to low-income families.

She and two other community members decided it was a great idea. They named their effort the Sunshine Supper.

They held their first meal with mixed feelings.

“We were nervous, because we had no idea how many people would show up and how well it’d be received,” Wiedmeyer said.

About 40 volunteers had prepared food and set up a room in the Masonic Lodge. About 25 people came.

“Everyone was very well taken care of at that first meal,” she said.

From the start, providing great service, and hospitality was key, and that’s something that they’ve been able to maintain, she said.

After the first supper, attendance grew until the lodge wasn’t big enough. They found a new home in the Wisconsin Cheeseman building and Jennings and Woldt Remodeling even volunteered to do the renovation work so suppers could be served.

After two or three months of installing a kitchen, a couple bathrooms and painting with what seemed like 100 gallons of paint, they were able to host dinner in the new facility.

A couple weeks later, Wiedmeyer was notified the business was closing.

“It really felt devastating to us,” Wiedmeyer said.

The worst part was meeting with Jennings and Woldt Remodeling to tell them the news, she said.

That’s been the hardest moment in the past five years, she said.

“They put so much into that space for us,” Wiedmeyer said.

But, they understood and said in the future, if Sunshine Supper needed something like that done again, they’d be the first to volunteer.

Even with this loss, the Sunshine Supper still needed a place to serve dinner the next Monday. Sun Prairie United Methodist Church volunteered their space.

Dinners were served there up until about a year and a half ago when the Sunshine Place purchased the Sunshine court, specifically so the Sunshine Supper could have its own, permanent location.

Jennings and Woldt Remodeling were called upon again. After knocking down walls, putting them back up and renovating, Sunshine Supper welcomed its guests to a new home.

“There’s a lot of potential for things that could happen, but the underlying thing is I have no doubt Sunshine Supper will be here far into the future,” Wiedmeyer said.

The past five years have reaffirmed what Wiedmeyer already knew about the Sun Prairie community, she said.

Each week, a different group, whether that be a business, club, association or church, hosts dinner.

This year’s sign up calendar was released in October and was full in days, she said.

“That kind of support has really touched us deeply,” Wiedmeyer said. “We were so touched that the newness has worn off, and we still have all that great support.”

In addition to all the work Jennings and Woldt Remodeling has done, other businesses have stepped up too, she said.

Market Street Diner always brings in desserts. Village Hearth Breads brings freshly baked breads. Prairie Flowers and Gifts brings in new centerpieces each month.

There are more ways businesses show support too, she said.

What has surprised her was who comes for dinner.

Instead of serving mainly low-income families, people of all walks of life have been strolling through the door, which has created a fantastic sense of community, Wiedmeyer said.

“I think people have kind of decided this is a fit for them, and we haven’t had to work really hard to get that mixture of people here,” she said.

Every week, about 150 guests are served dinner, and each guest has a different reason to come, she said.

Some like the social opportunity, others want to celebrate milestones with their community and some rely on the dinner, Wiedmeyer said.

“I think we’re building community among our guests, and it’s become an important part of their lives,” Wiedmeyer said.

She may not have known the organization would come to life when she enrolled in the class years ago, but Wiedmeyer said once the idea of the Sunshine Supper was born, everyone knew it was going to be a permanent support in Sun Prairie.

For more information about the Sunshine Supper, visit sunshinesupper.org.

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