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Hemenway United Methodist Church members served up the rich and varied flavors of faith Saturday as they celebrated their annual Taste of Hemeway event, offering different cultural dishes made by Jamaican, Belizean, American, Indian and Spanish church members to the public.

Jennifer Meyers (former Evanston resident, now living in Chicago) serves Belizean stew chicken and Spanish rice. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Event organizer Fay Bennett is the church secretary and an Evanstonian of 30 years. More than a decade ago, she noticed the variety of cultures and people in the church and started to brainstorm a way to share that diversity with the community. 

“I have never been to Taste of Chicago,” Bennett said. “But I went to my pastor. And I said, ‘What way can we bring the community in to see what we do?’ And then I said, ‘You know what, how about if we do ‘Taste of Hemenway’? And he said, ‘Go ahead.’”

The event used to be held in the church gym, but for COVID-19 reasons, this year’s version, advertised as the 11th annual event, happened 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday in the church backyard at 933 Chicago Ave.

The annual Taste of Hemenway celebration, usually held in the gym, took place in the church’s backyard Saturday as a pandemic precaution. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Guests bought tickets to redeem for meals, with various cultural dishes set up underneath different tents. A DJ played fun hits like the Electric Slide while enthused patrons reconnected or met for the first time. All proceeds went to the church’s ministry and charitable programs.

Bennett, who’s Jamaican, made jerk chicken, rice and beans, plantains, fritters, samosas and egg rolls. Representing Belize there was stewed chicken, dukunu (A version of tamales) and meat pies. Other culinary options included barbecue ribs, gumbo and mac and cheese. Two vendors also sold Indian crafts and jewelry.

A slab of ribs was available for patrons attending the Taste of Hemenway festival. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Bennett estimated about 250 people came, and noted that a number of community members who didn’t attend nevertheless bought tickets online to support the church.

“You know what, it was good to see a lot of faces that we have not seen in a long time,” she said. “And to be honest with you, we have support from a lot of our other United Methodist churches.” 

The event has a history of bringing people together. In the first year of the Taste of Hemenway celebration, when the Methodist church shared its building with a Haitain church, a number of the Haitain churchgoers also participated.

At the last Taste of Hemenway, “before COVID,” Bennett noted, “We had a Filipina pastor, so we had Filipina food, and we had Korean food because we had a Korean pastor also.”

Three Evanstonians, local educators and UMC church members, left to right: Vivian Green, a District 65 educator; Josh Mensch, a District 202 educator; and Bob Mensch, a principal in Cicero School District 99. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

Charlene Willoughby is a church member who moved to Evanston from Belize in 1984. She works as a banker, is a member of the committee that throws the yearly celebration and has been part of the event since its inception. 

She said: “All the different communities are recognized and they get to participate by making their special country’s meal to bring to share with the community.”

A “Taste of Hemenway” sign hanging outside the church. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

She makes food every year and this year brought her own caramel cake and lemon cake with frosting. The caramel cakes are the most popular, she said, adding as soon as she puts them down, they’re gone.

On Aug. 14, The church is having a picnic and worship service at Centennial Park and invites the community to join.

“We are a warm, welcoming community,” Willoughby said. “We like to celebrate culture and diversity. And we welcome members of the community to join us and the event or any occasion that we have.”

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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  1. Thank you Ms. Debbie-Marie Brown on behalf of The RoundTable for your presence at the recent Taste of Hemenway Church and Community Event. It was a time of celebration and acknowledgement of the diversity, spirit, and food in our church!! We continue to welcome the Evanston Community and surrounding communities to visit Hemenway Church. Thank you again Ms. Brown