SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Having grown up in a family of 10 siblings, Ceil DePrey had plenty of opportunities to practice cooking.
“It was exciting to cook for them because no matter what you made, someone would eat it,” DePrey said. “You also learn what people like and what they don’t like.”
In more recent years, the 78-year-old Sheboygan resident also garnered a couple of nicknames that pay homage to her talents as a chef, including “Soupy” or “The Soup Lady.” About four years ago, her name even became part of the title of an event relating to food that’s open to the entire Sheboygan community and beyond.
About four times a year, on the fifth Saturday of the month, First Congregational Church, UCC welcomes the public to a free breakfast, called Ceil’s Meal, which features many of DePrey’s own recipes. Some 100 people attended a recent Saturday meal.
The Rev. Julia Hollister, pastor at First Congregational Church, said the meals are important for a variety of reasons.
“Having healthy, nutritious food that is home-cooked is so important,” Hollister told Sheboygan Press Media. “And then also having people sit down at the table across from someone they don’t know and then starting up a conversation, and the sense of fellowship that comes out of this. And the church members really love having an opportunity to serve.”
The idea for the meals came about four years ago during a weekly Wednesday morning Bible study/discussion time that DePrey still attends at the church. During that particular session, DePrey said the group was reading about the Apostle Paul and the early Christian church.
DePrey said she shared her observation that while many places offer a free meal to those in need, the Bible passages demonstrated a different model.
“I said, ‘The poor are always being fed by the rich,’ or whatever we think, but I saw that’s not what was going on in the first Christian communities,” DePrey said. “All the people came together and ate as one. So I said, this is my idea of how a community meal should go.”
When someone in the group suggested that they call the meals, “Ceil’s Meal,” DePrey initially protested.
“I said, ‘Please don’t put my name on it,’” DePrey said. “And they said, ‘We all like that. It sounds poetic.’”
Initially DePrey served as the organizer for the meals, but took a step back from the role in 2011 when she had a double mastectomy. Since then, she’s served as a cook or a helper on the day of the meal itself, along with several other volunteers from the church.
The meals normally are predominantly funded by the church, and a free will donation is collected at each one. For this most recent meal, however, DePrey said she purchased the necessary groceries herself, despite living on a fixed income in low income housing.
DePrey said she’s observed all types of people attend the meals over the years — from doctors and lawyers to homeless or low-income families.
“People did come from all over Sheboygan and outside of Sheboygan,” DePrey said. “Some are rich and some are poor and some are in between.”
It’s encouraging to see people from all walks of life attend because that’s what the meals are all about, DePrey said.
“People, and especially in the early church, they came because everybody is one,” DePrey said. “Sheboygan is becoming more and more diverse. ...We have to listen to other people in order to understand what the world is like.”