She uses clothespins to hang the tickets.
One ticket, one free lunch.
Karen Lamb owns Lulu’s on N, where a sign on the front window lets hungry people know they are welcome to a meal, even if they don’t have the money.
She is at the small eatery on Tuesday, snow starting to fall on the icy sidewalks.
She’s using an ice cream scoop to make balls of cookie dough, oatmeal scotchies on their way to the oven.
A pot of vegetable beef simmers on a two-burner stove.
The street is empty.
Lamb wears a baseball cap and blue jeans and a chef’s apron.
The 57-year-old does some catering, too. She works part-time at an insurance office and on Sundays she preaches at United Methodist churches in Burr and Douglas.
She became a minister in mid-life.
“I was working at a big corporation and I lost my job,” she says. “I couldn’t find another one because I was supposed to be doing something else.”
Lamb is married with three daughters and two grandbabies, and she believes in the words she speaks from behind the pulpit: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Open your arms to those in need.
She started the Community Meal Program when Lulu’s moved downtown a few years ago to the former Korn Popper building across from the library.
“I said we have to do something about the homeless population, people who were hungry.”
By "we," Lamb mostly means herself. She’s had partners in the small restaurant, but now it’s just the preacher and one part-time helper.
The free meal concept is simple and relies on the help of paying customers. A five-dollar bill will pay for one meal. A single dollar bill is paired with more dollars.
Each ticket gets a customer in need a hot lunch.
“The thing that is important to me is that people can order whatever they want.”
The menu is simple.
Grilled cheese sandwiches you can fancy up with veggies or meat. A cup of soup, a cookie or a muffin. Homemade pasta.
Lamb is tall and self-assured. She grew up on the edge of the Sandhills.
Her dad was raised Mennonite. The owner of Cairo Plumbing & Well Drilling became a part-time farmer, too, who grew three rows of sweet corn next to the road and anyone who wanted corn on the cob for supper could come pick their fill.
He hunted, too, but Lamb’s mom refused to cook venison.
“So he gave it all away.”
And so the daughter grew up living with the concept of sharing.
And cooking. Lamb has been baking since she was in grade school; she waitressed, managed restaurants, started catering.
“I’ve always been interested in feeding people.”
Last week, she reached out for help with Community Meals after her funds ran dry. Her plea brought in $100, enough for 20 meals.
Those 20 tickets are gone. More money came in Tuesday, after her face appeared on the local TV news. She posted her gratitude on Facebook and put out a call to federal employees in Lincoln to come by for a free lunch.
When the money is gone, she'll keep giving.
She can't turn people away, Lamb says.
“I have a hard time saying no. Friday, I fed more homeless people than paying customers.”
And the woman behind Lulu’s on N has a plan.
She’d like to turn the restaurant into a pay-as-you-can place and she’s figuring out how to make her business a nonprofit.
She envisions grants and a small job training program for people who need a boost, a way to get into the working world.
“I want to talk to other restaurant owners, find out what their needs are,” she says.
Then get future workers in her small kitchen to learn the tricks of the cooking trade, help them get food handler permits, the right clothes.
“Most importantly, buy them shoes with nonslip soles.”
She’s serious about that, says the apron-wearing preacher.
A good woman with a motto: Feeding hungry bodies and nourishing souls.