It is 5 p.m. at Annunciation Parish in Havelock. The door to the parish hall is propped open ,and there is a small chalkboard sign out front: “Welcome, Our Daily Bread.”
Inside, the gym is bustling as volunteers set out chairs and tables, make coffee and place food and drinks at the serving line. All of these tasks, though, are secondary to the hugs, smiles and greetings that take place every few moments. Our Daily Bread is officially a ministry that provides hot meals every Monday evening for those in need, but in actuality it is more like a weekly holiday for a family of between 60 and 100 people.
Two and a half years ago, Curt Pope was part of the parish council at Annunciation when confirmation students would volunteer at a meal ministry down the street. Once Annunciation built a kitchen of its own, a council member suggested that the church should host a meal ministry.
Without hesitation, Mr. Pope raised his hand and said, “OK.” He has been the driving force of the ministry ever since.
Martin Moore, a volunteer for the last two years, said that, if it had been anyone but Mr. Pope, they may have been discouraged. “At the first [dinner], there were about three people who came to eat, and about 30 volunteers,” he laughed. It would have been easy to give up early, but with trust, they continued to get the word out and, steadily, the tables began to fill with people grateful for a safe place and warm meal.
Our Daily Bread has now served roughly 7,200 meals. The program averages 250 meals per month. To the guests at this dinner though, the incredible meal is secondary to the love and care that is present.
Sonja, a mother of four, with one on the way, said, “It’s really about the community. We get to eat as a family, and all of these people really care about each other. My kids ask to come every week.”
Her daughter McKenna, 14, is at an age when some are slow to admit they like eating family dinners. “[But] I really look forward to it,” she said with a smile. “There’s always something different and new. I even met one of my good friends here.”
Tanya Pope, Curt’s wife, pops by the table while McKenna is talking to give a squeeze to her favorite three-year-old, Sonja’s youngest daughter, McKaylynn. McKaylynn gives an excited squeak and reminds Mrs. Pope that her birthday is not too far away.
At Our Daily Bread, birthdays are celebrated with cake, losses are mourned, and stories are shared.
One of the things Mr. Pope is proudest of is that, when people first attend, you might not be able to tell who is a guest and who is a volunteer. “We’ve gotten to know the families that come here, and we share our stories,” he said. “When we take the time, it’s easy to realize that we are all not so different.”
Part of what makes the ministry successful is the simplicity of the evening. Volunteers sign up to bring crock-pot meals to allow for easy clean-up and variety. Paper and plastic dishes are used, and take-out containers are on hand for leftover food.
“We don’t have to assign any jobs really,” Mrs. Pope explained while gesturing to volunteers pouring lemonade. “Most have been coming so often, they know what they are doing, and they make this all happen.”
Normally about 20 volunteers -- including parishioners, community volunteers and students fulfilling -- are present each Monday.
Mr. Pope coordinates the program via emails that request volunteers and confirm menu items. He never loses sleep over the matter and jokes that, if it’s a slow volunteer week, he’ll incorporate some of the best Saint Mother Theresa and Pope Francis quotes to really light a fire under volunteers.
“I could never do this,” volunteer Ann Silveira said about managing the event, giving credit to Mr. Pope. “If the menu wasn’t filled Friday, I’d panic.”
But Mr. Pope just laughs. “It is really loaves and fishes. Even if we don’t have a full menu, or many people signed up to bring food, I never worry,” he said. “The Holy Spirit works it all out, and we are never without.”
Ann often sits with Al Francesconi, her weekly dinner companion. He is 99 years old and has a plate full of food in front of him. When asked why he likes to come, he gives a look that says, ‘do you even have to ask?’ Then, he gestures to the extended family that fills the room. “It’s tremendous. Just look at this camaraderie,” he said.
A presence of the Holy Spirit is undeniable, from the opening prayer circle, to the joyful serving of food and loving conversation, the atmosphere is bound in the spirit of charity.
- by Mandy Howard