Lt. Loreen Petzing is just now completing her first year of Salvation Army officership. She serves as the assistant leader of the Army’s worship and community center in South Phoenix, Arizona. In a recent piece in The Salvation Army Western Territory’s Caring Magazine, she talks about a novel program that helps kids learn table manners and Bible stories. Here’s the story in her own words:

Supper Club in PhoenixExcerpted from Caring Magazine
Written by Loreen Petzing
Photo by Loreen Petzing

“Hey, Lieutenant!,” Andrea, 8, exclaimed. “I am coming to Supper Club tonight and I’m going to put my napkin in my lap, always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and eat all of my vegetables!”

Andrea worries a lot. Fearing deportation, her family moves to a different house or apartment in South Phoenix, Arizona, every six months and switches schools each time.

At The Salvation Army Phoenix South Mountain Corps Community Center, Andrea comes to have dinner.

Manners and nutrition
Every Wednesday evening, 40 kids ages 7 to 12 arrive ready to eat. Majors Guy and Denise Hawk implemented the Supper Club program five years ago to help bring kids into the corps [Salvation Army worship community] who normally only participated in sports or after-school tutoring. Since the beginning of this program, 49 children have been enrolled as junior soldiers and now regularly attend the corps.

In overseeing this program, I discovered that few families consistently teach manners to the upcoming generation. At our table, manners are a priority, and seconds or dessert are not available until the kids finish a serving of vegetables. While this rule often elicits groans, it also encourages the kids to eat food that they would not normally eat and teaches the importance of well-balanced nutrition. Meals are prepared by Supper Club cook Miguel Utrera.

Supper Club at Phoenix South Mountain has four simple expectations. The first is that they can do anything they would like as long as it does not cause a problem for anyone else. The next is that they are expected to treat all leaders with the same level of respect that we treat them. The third expectation, linked to the first, makes known that if they cause a problem for anyone else, there will be a consequence. Lastly, they are expected to come to Supper Club ready and excited to participate and learn new things.

Nothing fancy
In the past year, we began Manner of the Month to emphasize etiquette, including: always say please and thank you; always put your napkin in your lap; and wait for your whole table to be served before eating. These manners are becoming automatic when they sit down at the table.

After the meal, the kids clean their tables and we begin the Bible story. We started in Genesis and are moving forward with the theme, “God uses little people to do big things.” The kids learned about Joseph and how he did big things in Egypt even though he was so young and was sold into slavery. They learned about David and how God wanted him to be king even though he was the youngest son in the family. The kids have also learned to ask questions—that challenge me at times—about God’s word.

These children are intrigued by the stories of people who lived thousands of years ago and did amazing things. There is nothing fancy about the way they learn the Bible stories or about the program itself. It is a simple program that requires little funding. Meals are made with food mostly from the Food Bank and the lessons come straight from the Bible, but the kids learn practical manners to carry throughout their lives. We also stress that it does not matter who they are or where they are from, God can still use each child to do big things if they follow him.

In Phoenix South Mountain, a simple dining space has become the breeding ground for real life change.

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