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Churches help fill a need to feed people

Chris Dorst
From left to right, volunteers and church members Donald Jones, Carlos Neccuzi, Bob Perlman and Jim King serve dinner during Breaking Bread, held every Wednesday evening at Christ Church United Methodist in Charleston.
Chris Dorst People receive dinner during Breaking Bread, Christ Church United Methodist's weekly dinner, held every Wednesday evening.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rev. Shauna Hyde, the associate pastor of Christ Church United Methodist in Charleston, developed shingles last fall. She'd never been so sick.

While Hyde was recovering, she received a visit from people well known to her. They were two homeless people who had traveled from the East End to her home in South Charleston on foot to bring her a can of chicken noodle soup -- a get-well present for the pastor.

"Goodness knows how they got the can of soup, but they came all the way to my house to give me that can of soup," Hyde said.

The two were part of a large group of homeless, struggling and hungry people that Christ Church feeds during its Breaking Bread meals, held every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the church with food from the Bridge Road Bistro.

Breaking Bread founder and chef Robert Wong owned the Bridge Road Bistro, where he was also head chef until he died last year.

According to Hyde, Breaking Bread feeds as many as 100 people every Wednesday, many of whom live in one of at least three "tent cities" Hyde has seen in Charleston, which are small communities of homeless people who live outside of shelters in makeshift areas.

"They come in and say 'thank you' a lot," Hyde said. "One of the ladies who is homeless brought me a bouquet of flowers a couple of weeks ago that she had handpicked on her way there. It was just one of those 'thank you' moments."

Christ Church, as well as Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and Simpson Memorial United Methodist Church, offer consistent weekly meals to the hungry. Many other local churches offer monthly gatherings and food pantries, according to Jean Simpson, executive director of Manna Meal.

A 38-year-old soup kitchen housed at St. John Episcopal Church on Quarrier Street, Manna Meal provides a unique service to Charleston. Breakfast and lunch are served seven days a week to anyone who walks through its doors.

"It's not so much a lack of places to go; where I see people hurting is an inability to buy food on their own or to have a food pantry to go to," Simpson said.

Simpson said Manna Meal partnered with Covenant House, a local pantry and advocacy center, to donate food after many of its visitors started asking for groceries they could take home.

Manna Meal has fed more than 1.3 million people in its history, and serves as many as 380 people two meals each day. For Simpson, though, Manna Meal and many area churches are treating a symptom of a larger disease.

A widespread need exists that requires more organization and greater outreach to effectively tackle it, she said.

"My dream is, one day, a food pantry that is more open to the public in the area, especially seniors. We have a lot of seniors in this area with a lot of pride who won't get food, and so they don't eat well," Simpson said. "They think the soup kitchen is for people who can't afford [it], and a lot of them can, but they don't cook for themselves so their diets are very poor."

According to a 2010 census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 5 percent of the households in Kanawha County were low-income, had no car and poor access to stores selling food -- 4,238 families without means of acquiring enough food.

Simpson said half of those who frequent Manna Meal have jobs, but are often underemployed and unable to afford many necessities on a smaller salary.

Even larger agencies, including the Union Mission, Mountain Mission, the Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center and the YWCA Sojourner's Shelter, which serve more people than area churches, may not be sufficient for those unable to travel, Simpson said.

Interim Priest Ann Lovejoy Johnson, the minister of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in St. Albans, said every donation the church receives is used, and that all the outreach the church offers gets sufficiently used as a resource.

That includes its St. Albans community food pantry, as well as Christ Kitchen, which serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday and on Saturday, and its emergency assistance fund for residents behind on their utility bills.

"We've seen an increase in our needs, so we've been working on raising awareness," Johnson said. "There is a sense of community here for the folks who come. A lot of them have been coming for years and know each other."

Christ Kitchen serves as many as 100 people a day, and the St. Albans community food pantry serves at least 25 families each week.

The pantry is open every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 to 11 a.m., and reservations can be made every Monday and Wednesday by calling 304-932-9406 between 9:30 and 11 a.m. During that period of time on Wednesdays, residents also can apply at the church for emergency need assistance.

Trinity's Table, a weekly dinner held every Sunday at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on Kanawha Boulevard, feeds between 250 and 300 people. Nick Mitchell, one of its coordinators, said the church does not turn anyone away.

"It started with one of our church members who had gone down to help after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, and they came back and decided that there is as much poverty and need here on a regular basis," Mitchell said. "Our first night, we served one local resident. We'll feed anyone who walks through our door from 5-6:30 on Sundays."

For Hyde, the help Breaking Bread offers the community isn't just measured in the number of meals it serves.

"The impact is powerful -- for both our church members and our homeless," she said. "I think we're in a day and age where we have forgotten how to simply believe in each other, and know that all human life is sacred. Sometimes it's easy to forget how important life itself is, how precious human life is." Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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