Loaves & Fishes
Every Monday thru Thursday, from 5 – 6:00 p.m., Loaves and Fishes provides dinner and good company to anyone who wants it, free of charge, in St. Matthew’s Social Hall. Depending on the time of year (more people come in warm weather) anywhere from 125-190 people gather together for dinner each night. The majority of diners are single parent families and elders. Dawn Haas, the program coordinator, estimates that all their guests live within a mile or two of St. Matthew’s.
Many of the regulars are seniors who live in the Wilder apartments across the street. Around 25% of the diners are kids, who sometimes come without an adult. Dawn, says “I’ve seen children as young as two years old show up with older siblings to eat dinner. When school is out, this may be the only meal they get that day.” This year, Dawn’s noticed a new group, two parent families. “We didn’t see much of that before.”
But she has seen the numbers go up. There was a 10% increase in diners from 2007-08. And she can tell the numbers are up again this year, she estimates by 15%.
One of the regulars is Gaynell, a gregarious woman from the Wilder apartments who says, “My money doesn’t stretch the whole month. I come to eat three times per week, sometimes four. It helps.” But Gaynell can’t stay to talk because she’s also the Candy Lady. Every night she brings a bag stuffed with suckers and cellophane-wrapped Smarties to hand out to each child that comes for dinner. “We used to give out gum” her friend Bill says on the side, “but they kept having to scrape it off the floor. So they asked us to stop.”
Over 20 different churches and faith groups volunteer to make and serve dinner each night. Tonight’s team is from Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Afton. Lisa, one of the volunteers, hands out a tray heaping with tacos and beans and says “We see such good manners from the families that come in. People are so thankful.” And she knows the service is crucial, “People may be faced with a decision – do I pay for prescriptions or groceries?”