(Aug. 9, 2019) Employees with international work visas, or J-1s, have ample opportunities to meet other students and receive a free meal, courtesy of several local churches who provide breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the summer season.
United Work and Travel Program Director Anne Marie Constabile first came up with the International Student Outreach program in 2001 as a way to help students find others like them and enjoy the amenities the resort has to offer.
Her church in particular, Holy Savior Catholic Church on 17th Street, holds six to eight dinners each summer, or one every two weeks, roughly.
“It works well,” Constabile said. “I started this in 2001 and it’s down the coast. Then this whole concept of what we started at Holy Savior has been adopted by the entire nation at this point. It’s all over the United States now and everywhere there are J1 [students] churches are coming together to do the outreach that we started here in Ocean City.”
The students really appreciate the support from the community.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Natalia Sabolova of Slovakia. “Not only [do] we save money on food but we get to meet other internationals and build community so anything we go through during the summer we have someone that can help us or encourage us and is maybe dealing with the same thing.
“I was a J-1 also last summer in San Francisco and there was nothing like this there,” she continued. “No community, nothing for internationals. It makes sense though because here, there’s a lot of internationals. It still surprised me how much love and care they show us. I’m so grateful.”
Holy Savior tends to do themed meals, like a welcoming party for its first one held in June. It also holds Fourth of July dinners, a Christmas in July and has even arranged for a bishop meet and greet next Thursday, Aug. 15.
“For them, this is a lifetime achievement because in their country they would never have the closeness ... the church hierarchy just doesn’t come down to the normal people’s level,” Constabile said. “Our bishop is coming and he’s going to be in a regular priest outfit. He doesn’t wear any regalia … he’ll just wear his cross and he introduces himself. The students are in awe to meet him because they never would believe that a bishop would come from Wilmington just to be with them.”
For meals, the Holy Savior Catholic Church offers a wide variety of food such as meat and veggies, pasta, fruits and desserts during its events. The church will serve hundreds of students during its events, Conestabile said. Guests can also choose carryout.
For some students, like Maria Evtimova of Bulgaria, these meals are a way to eat well on a budget.
“This is my second year in America and the first year I didn’t know about this,” Evtimova said. “It’s awesome because they help students, especially when students first come here, they don’t have any money. They give us actual good food because food here is more expensive and everyone tends to get pizzas and stuff like that.”
These meals are meant for J-1 students, but the church will also provide to those who arrive at the door in need of food.
For more information about the Holy Savior Catholic Church dinners, call 410-390-2288 or 410-289-0652.
Gary Steger, a minister at Son’Spot Ministries on Worcester Street, holds five international meals, serving breakfast four times a week and dinner once a week.
“It gives them an opportunity for a free meal, fellowship, friendship with other international students,” Steger said. “It’s just amazing that they come to another country by themselves at such a young age. Most of them are working two jobs. Coming and having a free meal is just really a benefit to them for their existence, because they don’t have the money to go buy food, so it’s a blessing to them to be able to have a home-cooked free meal.”
For breakfast, the church pulls out all the stops, serving bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, French toast, scrambled eggs, fruit and hot and cold cereals. During the summer, dinners typically consist of a spaghetti dish in order to provide meals to over 200 students every week.
This time of year, many of the churches also receive fish donations. This week, Son’Spot expects to receive some fresh tuna and marlin donations from the White Marlin Open tournament catches.
“We will start having marlin probably every other week,” Steger said. “So it will be spaghetti one week and marlin the other.”
Son’Spot Ministries will hand out fliers one hour before the dinners take place in order to raise more awareness about its programs.
“Our reason for doing it is we want the opportunity to tell them that God loves them and has a plan for their life,” Steger said. “And that’s why we do what we do.”
Son’Spot Ministries opens its doors to anyone who is in need of food, regardless of whether they are a J-1 student or not.
For more information about Son’Spot Ministries meals, call 410-289-1296.
Another church which provides meals for J-1 students or others in need is the Ocean City Baptist Church on North Division Street.
Ocean City Baptist has been providing meals for students for the past 20 years, Pastor Sean Davis said.
“He loves us and so we want to love others, and this is our way of loving them,” Davis said. “They spend $3,000-$4,000 just to come here. They don’t have much.”
The church works in collaboration with other baptist churches on the Eastern Shore to create the meals and distribute them, which contributes to a large variety of dishes.
Sometimes the meal is fried chicken, other times it’s cold cuts. Students can also enjoy tacos, hot soups and lasagna.
“The only rule we have is no pork of any type of because of our Muslim and Jewish students that don’t eat that,” Davis said.
The church can serve anywhere from 100 to 300 students meals.
“I get the privilege of being the pastor of a church that loves the people,” Davis said. “And that’s what we try to do; love God, love people and serve the world. That’s our motto. We say serve at the beach, but serve at the beach means the world because the world comes to Ocean City.”
Davis and some of his followers have even gone to European countries during mission trips due to the good relationships built with the J-1 students.
Davis also wants to provide a safe haven for international students, who can often be taken advantage of.
“We try to give them that place where it’s safe and secure every Monday and every Thursday night,” he said.
For more information about the meals at the Ocean City Baptist Church, call 410-289-6573.
Regardless of whether the churches are feeding the J-1 students or locals, each church appreciates any volunteers who can help them and or provide donations.
“We have friendships that become lifelong memories that when these students gather at these churches and for dinners, they’re always in awe as to why Americans are so generous and why do we do this,” Constabile said.