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Common Grounds volunteers cooking for community benefit

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 12/27/2012 8:38 AM

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Common Grounds Coffee House

621 Bush St., Lamont, Iowa

Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday

Known for the grilled steak special served the third Thursday of every month. Cost for steak, potato, salad, dessert and beverage is $8.

Contact them at (563) 924-2361

LAMONT, Iowa — People in the Lamont area can get a cup of coffee six days a week and a hot meal Monday through Friday at Common Grounds Coffee House.

"We had a young ambitious pastor at Grace United Methodist Church about 15 years ago, the Rev. Doug Williams, and he got us to do more than we ever thought we could do, and that is a wonderful thing in a small town," said Bev Parker, who has volunteered since the cafe opened. "We had lost our only cafe, and the tavern that served food was closing."

The administrative board of Grace United Methodist Church created Common Grounds Coffee House in fall 1997 to provide a smoke- and alcohol-free place in Lamont "to gather, gab and drink coffee."

"We like to say that it developed into an 'ecumenical brew' when the other churches and community members got involved," Parker said.

The initial funding came from a grant from the Iowa Methodist Conference and individual donations.

Steve Sanders, a local farmer who died of cancer a year ago, collaborated with the pastor and several other Grace United Methodist administrative board members to get the project started. The effort prompted Sanders to buy the Lamont Leader, the local newspaper, and the building it was in.

"That was the beginning of the coffee shop," Parker said.

The Lamont Leader office is located in the back of the Common Grounds building in what used to be a meat locker. Sanders' sister, Ann, runs the paper.

The building was refurbished and all the original equipment and furniture was donated. A local artist decorated the walls. Common Grounds has since replaced most of the original equipment by acquiring two freezers, two microwaves, two refrigerators and a garbage disposal.

Common Grounds is governed by a community board of directors and the staff is all volunteer. Jane Seedorff chairs the board.

The eatery has donated $70,000 back to community projects. The one that volunteers are most proud of is Gazebo Park, which is next to Common Grounds. They acquired and demolished a dilapidated building and reclaimed a vacant lot that was donated to the group. Bricks with people's names on them were sold to pay for the gazebo.

"That's one of the neatest things we did," Parker said.

Monday through Friday the lunch menu consists of a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts. Saturday just coffee and rolls are served. Specials are cooked up every Wednesday.

"It's a full meal for $8," Parker said. "The first Wednesday we serve pork donated by a local farmer. The third Wednesday we grill steaks outside."

The second and fourth Wednesdays are cook's choice, and lamb is featured on the fifth Wednesday, if there is one.

Volunteer who worked at Common Grounds have fun and want to come back, Parker said.

Last week, volunteers put up a Christmas tree, lights and hung garlands. The front of the building and the gazebo were also decorated. This year's theme is mittens. Colorful mittens and hats adorn the walls and a small tree. After the holidays they will be donated to Starmont School, and the nurse will distribute them to children in need.

When the work was finished, volunteers enjoyed a potluck supper of soup, sandwiches and other goodies.

The cafe is the center of the community.

"We have a community table, and everyone sits there until it fills up," Parker said. "It's fun to listen to the conversation. We have a 90-year-old man who comes over from Aurora, farmers, the lady from the post office, everyone sits at the community table."

Evenings Common Grounds is available for baby showers, card parties and other gatherings. It's free for volunteers. Others pay a small fee for the lights and coffee.

"The whole thing is more than any of us ever expected," Parker said. "We went ahead mostly on faith and prayers. We like to say that our efforts are a good example of God's grace at work."