An all Volunteer Non-profit Organization Offering Assistance to Our Community.
Daily Bread Soup Kitchen History
Last August, after the former Catholic Worker House volunteers regrouped, recommitted to feeding the hungry of Champaign, and reorganized as Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, our first job was to find a new home. This turned out to be quite difficult The many churches and organizations we approached, while all supportive of our mission, were reluctant to open their doors on a daily basis to the less fortunate of our community. So we were excited when New Covenant Fellowship, just down the street from our former home, agreed to let us use their facility on weekdays.
New Covenant approached our new partnership with enthusiasm but also trepidation. In the beginning New Covenant agreed to let us use their kitchen to make sandwiches, and their front doorway to hand out sack lunches to guests who lined up in the street. They cleared two shelves in the kitchen and two shelves in the refrigerator for our supplies. Their building itself, along with its bathrooms, was off limits to our guests. We, and our guests, were clearly on probation. However, after having so many doors closed to us, we were thrilled to have New Covenant’s doors open, even if, at first, they were only opened a crack!
But our probation period was mercifully brief. The first day we served thirty sack lunches from the doorway. The numbers increased every day as the word spread that the soup kitchen was back in business. After a first week of exemplary behavior on everyone’s part, New Covenant opened its doors to the large entry foyer and allowed our guests to come inside to get their sack lunches. The bathrooms were made available as well.
As the numbers of hungry we were feeding grew and as our supplies began overflowing the shelves and the refrigerator, New Covenant cleared more shelf and refrigerator space and eventually cleared out a whole Sunday School classroom and gave it to us to use for storage.
As fall turned into winter and our guests began arriving shivering from the cold, New Covenant agreed to allow us to let guests in early, serve coffee and hot chocolate, and set up tables and chairs in the foyer so that guests could sit and eat in a warm space.
As we worked throughout the winter with Public Health to find a way to safely provide hot soup and salad to our guests, New Covenant worked with us to make this possible.
By the time it got really cold, as our menu and our number of daily guests both expanded, New Covenant agreed to allow us to serve our guests lunch in their large Fellowship Hall. In a few short months we had progressed from a sack lunch handout at New Covenant’s front door to a sit down meal in the Fellowship Hall where the hungry of Champaign could gather around tables and eat a meal with dignity. We were serving 100 guests a day hot soup, salad, sandwiches, fruit, chips, and desserts in an warm and loving atmosphere.
There’s an old saying ‘if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile...’ We’re guessing that the New Covenant people sometimes felt like that about Daily Bread. Well aware of the amount of food available to us in the community if we had a Public Health approved kitchen to prepare it in, we began negotiating with New Covenant and Public Health about updating the New Covenant kitchen. Through the hard work of many people and the very generous donations from many supporters, the kitchen upgrade took place during a three week hiatus in September, and on October 4, 2010, Daily Bread was back in the hot meal business! Daily Bread and New Covenant were blessed with a Public Health certified kitchen equipped with new sinks and shelving. Daily Bread became the proud owner of a new large walk-in refrigerator and walk-in freezer that allowed us to accept and store huge quantities of food. The donations of a large food warmer and a double convection oven have allowed us to serve our guests quicker and more efficiently.
The upgrade of the kitchen has allowed us to serve meals that literally include everything from soup to nuts, if you count the chopped pecans on top of the chocolate brownies! Our guests enjoy hot soup, salad, a hot entree, vegetables, and a dessert, all prepared lovingly by some of the best cooks in town. Most leave with a sack lunch that serves as dinner. Today we are feeding almost 200 guests every day. No one walks away from Daily Bread hungry.
Sadly, however, hunger is an ongoing and endless problem. Our sack lunches help with the problem of an evening meal, but we knew that many of our guests had nothing to eat over the weekends when we were closed. Ellen McDowell told us that she had a dream, that she dreamed that someone donated a van or truck to Daily Bread that we could outfit and use to serve soup, sandwiches, and coffee to guests on weekends. And shortly after we told our supporters in our newsletter about Ellen’s dream, we were offered, not one, but two vans. And shortly after we became van owners, a group of students from Newman Center at the University of Illinois came to us expressing their desire to provide food on weekends to the hungry of Champaign. Today, on Saturday and Sunday, our van, staffed by students and other volunteers, goes out, parks and distributes over 350 sack lunches as well as fellowship.
Daily Bread has come a huge distance in just two years, but our history isn’t done being written. As wonderful a partner as New Covenant has been for us, it is Ellen’s dream, it is the dream of all of Daily Bread’s volunteers, to have our own building , to have a true Community Soup Kitchen. While we are immensely grateful to New Covenant for taking us in, we long for a place where we can serve hot meals seven days a week, a place where we can have ample storage, a place big enough that our guests can sit and linger, a place where we can bring in other agencies to help our guests.
Daily Bread has come a long way in two short years, but our journey is not yet finished.