If it’s Friday, chances are Maria Ruemenapp can be found serving up food and smiles with her fellow Love Thy Neighbor volunteers at The Salvation Army’s kitchen in Lewisville.
“I am a Friday cook!” she says joyfully.
Each week, Maria works with a group of eight to 10 men and women from area churches to serve meals and hope to those in need.
Love Thy Neighbor began in 2010 when Maria and a small group of her friends realized the need for a daily feeding program for those less fortunate in the community. Since that time, Love Thy Neighbor has expanded exponentially. The organization now includes the kitchen program, as well as a Clothing Assistance Program (CAP), Love Thy Baby and Love Thy Pet.
“We started as a small group of women who met weekly over coffee for about six months to start feeding the homeless, our original goal,” Maria says. “We ended up creating Love Thy Neighbor as a North Texas-based nonprofit.”
Traci Long, president of Love Thy Neighbor, says the organization provides an average of 100 meals per day five days a week to the community.
One master chef creates the weekly menus, and five different daily chefs and their team prep, cook and serve a hot entree, including a vegetable, green salad, fruit salad, rolls, dessert and beverage. The team also cleans up after each meal.
“Anyone is welcome to dine in the kitchen from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday,” Traci says. “LTN partners with The Salvation Army and provides the volunteers and money to support the kitchen.”
Love Thy Neighbor also funds the Clothing Assistance Program, which works to clothe the working poor and homeless in the community. The organization buys new shoes, undergarments and jeans to be distributed.
“Each family member gets four outfits every three months,” Traci says. “Happy, dedicated and fun volunteers sort, bag and tag gently worn clothing and then deliver to the personal shoppers that work with the scheduled clients to pick their clothing. These programs allow the working poor and homeless to spend their money on other living essentials, like groceries and utilities.”
Love Thy Baby, a fixture in the community for two decades, joined LTN in 2015 from the previous Newborns in Need.
“This wonderful group of volunteers makes beautiful baby blankets for newborns in economic or health distress. They are then delivered to hospitals and other agencies,” Traci says.
Love Thy Pet began in 2016 as a way to utilize extra materials from the Love Thy Baby program.
“Not knowing what do do with the with the excess scraps from the LTB baby blankets, volunteers created Love Thy Pet and make pet beds and deliver to animal shelters across North Texas,” Traci says. “Pets adopted from shelters and humane societies go home with handmade yet stunning pet beds. Our scraps go to good use.”
Traci says the community response to Love Thy Neighbor has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Our friends, donors and volunteers have been amazing to LTN since we opened our doors in 2010. They have watched us grow and are simply amazing with the response we get while supporting others. We are a small, local nonprofit yet serve so many,” Traci says.
“It is so rewarding—almost a miracle—how our hopes, dreams and vision materialized and how far we have come and how many people we now help,” Maria says. “The services we provide are so needed. The personal relationships we form with meeting, feeding and seeing the same people every week are so rewarding and fulfilling because sometimes our connection with these people provide the only hot meals for their day, as well as a smiling face. We do not judge, and we help bring them hope and encourage them to keep on keeping on.”
For more information on Love Thy Neighbor, visit LTNLoveThyNeighbor.org.