Despite forecast for rain just days prior, Wednesday evening found ample sun shining down on the green grassy field behind the Salvation Army of Central Maryland's building at 300 Hahn Road, in Westminster. By 5 p.m. a sweet, smoking char was on the cool breeze, as burgers and hot dogs came off the grill, beats drummed from the DJ's speakers and children played between picnic tables.
"I love it. I am so happy we were able to do this whole thing outside," said Nina Christian, service unit manager at the Salvation Army of Carroll County.
This was the Community Spring Fling Cookout, which Christian had planned in order to celebrate one year of the Brass Hat Cafe, which has been providing free meals to people, no questions asked, since it opened in April 2017.
"We've done almost 12,000 meals in this past year and the community has taken to it so well. We've had so many great comments on how having this meal three times a week has been such a help financially," Christian said. "They appreciate how nicely they are treated, because a lot of other places that they go they don't get the same treatment."
The idea behind the cafe was simple: From 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, people can come to the cafe to be served a free, hot meal, just as they would pay for in any restaurant. People can even order carry out.
"Our building is still small — we can only fit so many people!" Christian said.
The cafe started off small too, recalled Ed Wilson, of Westminster, who volunteered to help cook that first meal last April.
"We only had five people that first day," he said. "God provided and it grew."
By the summer months of 2017, the cafe was averaging 100 people per night, according to Christian.
"In the wintertime it was a little slower, but we were still averaging 75 to 100 people each night," she said. "That's between the eat-ins and the carry outs."
Rebecca and Curtis Marquat, of Westminster, and their children, Kayla, 8, Michelle, 5, and 3-year-old Marie, have also been coming to the Cafe since it launched.
"We came to their food distribution a week before where they announced they were starting dinners three nights a week a year ago," Rebecca said. "I had just been telling my husband, 'I think we need a little help with dinners.' I'm a stay at home mom and I home school."
The prospect of a free hot meal the kids will eat can be a big help, Rebecca added, even if they don't always take to every meal that's served. Still, she said, they have their favorites.
"My daughter's absolute favorite is their spaghetti and meat sauce, and even our son liked it because we can get it without anything on it for him," Rebecca said. "And what was that big slab of meat that you liked?"
"The brisket," Curtis answered with a nod.
The patrons were few at Monday evening's grand opening of the Brass Hat Cafe in Westminster. But then, what restaurant's opening night ever goes exactly acco
Wilson was enjoying a burger himself at the cookout Wednesday, and said he would continue to come out and volunteer for the Salvation Army and the Brass Hat Cafe because the army had taken care of him and his family when their house burned down in 2006.
"I was a sheep and He took care of me. I help take care of His sheep," Wilson said, and looking at the warm spring evening around him, "The Lord provided."
As the DJ called out the winners of raffled gift cards and gathered the children for a game of musical chairs, Christian pondered the first year of the Brass Hat Cafe — and the next.
"It's been an amazing journey, it really has," she said. "We're going to keep trucking on. I would love for us to be able to do more things outside as it's getting warmer."
For more information about the Brass Hat Cafe to volunteer or donate, visit www.salvationarmycm.org and click on the Brass Hat Cafe tab.
If you go
What: Brass Hat Cafe
When: 4:30 to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesdays
Where: 300 Hahn Road, Westminster