Church members piled gift bags, blankets and books high at First United Methodist Church of Gonzales on a recent Saturday night for the third monthly “Second Saturday Grace” program, which welcomes residents with a hot meal, warm company and open hearts.

As its name denotes, Second Saturday Grace occurs on the second Saturday of each month. It is the joint effort of nine area churches, said Kimberley Schwartz, the event coordinator. People come together and bring what they can for the community, including books for children and adults.

Second Saturday Grace offers a hot meal and gifts to its guests as well as a listening ear. Meals at the Nov. 8 event were provided by the Salvation Army. Tables were spread with games for guests to play alongside volunteers.

Booths provided resources and information for other local aids, such as Stephen Ministries, which offers emotional support, and One Harvest Food Ministries, a nondenominational, faith-based organization that sells low-cost meal boxes.

Volunteer Celeste Harris gave books, which were donated to First United Methodist Church, to children and adults.

“We’ve given away several books. Children seem to be excited to get books. I hope this continues to grow,” Harris said.

Second Saturday Grace is a place “where we can come have conversation,” Schwartz said. It all began with “four weeks of imagination,” she said.

The Rev. Mark Goins explained that the church began brainstorming in February for ways it could give back to the community. Inspired by the book “Cool Impossible,” by Eric Orton, and his own “impossible” participation in Walt Disney World’s Dopey Challenge in January, Goins asked his church to imagine the impossible. “We asked, ‘What would you think is really cool that we could do?’ ” Goins said.

After four weeks, church members had narrowed down four major programs that they wanted to implement: tutoring for students, a handyman team to do odds-and-ends jobs for the community, a community garden to feed the hungry, and Second Saturday Grace, Goins said.

“It’s exciting for me to see the people in the congregation come together and work on in the community — to see people here on a Saturday night during the LSU-Bama game,” Goins said with a smile.

Other church congregations have also joined the efforts of the people at First United Methodist Church. Greg Nesmith, representing One Harvest Food Ministries and Household of Faith, said, “We got to get past this idea that you have to go to my church. We need to serve the needs of our community.”

The Rev. Jonathan Kern, of St. James Lutheran Church, has been instrumental in helping the program, Schwartz said.

“I’ve been looking forward to something like this ever since I first got here three years ago,” Kern said.

Now, Kern is excited to be participating in an interdenominational church effort to help the community.

“What I see is an opportunity of churches of different beliefs to have one common goal: We can be about bringing justice to the community. We want this community to be a safe place, a loving place,” Kern said. “It’s our way of letting everyone know that churches are not here in spite of the community; we are here for the community.”

Joseph Waller heard about Second Saturday Grace from an old friend at First United Methodist Church and has been coming regularly, Schwartz said.

“I’ve worked the cards that I’ve been dealt,” Waller said. “I like the part of getting together (with people of different faiths); I was brought up Catholic. I don’t think they’ve got enough people helping them,” Waller said.

“It’s my hope that giving will become a natural part of the church members’ lives,” Goins said.

“There is also another message,” Kern said. “This isn’t just a soup kitchen for the hungry; it’s a place where people gather to be transparent with one another.”

Groups taking part in the program are Life Cathedral Worship Center, First United Methodist Church, River Church South, St. James Lutheran, Grace Works, Household of Faith, Meadows Chapel, Salvation Army and St. Teresa Catholic Church.

For more information about Second Saturday Grace, visit firstumcgonzales.org/second-saturday-grace.php.

To know more about One Harvest Food Ministries, visit oneharvest.com.