The sharing spirit: Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen
For eight years, Darren has been sober. And for two of those eight years, Darren has called the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen in Brainerd his community. His church.
Darren visits the Soup Kitchen each day - coming for a filling meal but leaving with new-found friendships and a strengthening of this faith.
"It's about more than just coming to a nice, warm place for a hot meal," Darren says. "Here, I find the love and authority of God. We're all in the same boat, when we come here. This is my church."
That is the essence of what the Serving Bread Soup Kitchen has embodied since its inception in 1987, said Pastor Bob Evans, manager of the Soup Kitchen since 1998.
Housed in an unassuming structure on the east side of Brainerd is a life-sustaining gift utilized by men and women, children, individuals, families. On any given day, the soup kitchen serves an average of 65 evening meals, which may not seem like much until you consider that is also 20,000 meals a year. The soup kitchen receives much of their food from the Second Harvest North Central Food Bank. One bulk delivery is made each month, equaling roughly one to two tons in weight. What takes that food from the pantry to the plate is the giving spirit and generosity of volunteers from the lakes area. Church groups, service groups or individuals who believe in the organization's mission all sign on to help prepare and serve meals to those in need of a hot, nutritious meal. No questions are asked. The only requirement is that they come hungry.
"There is great fluidity in the population that is reached here," Evans noted. "Many we serve are people who are marginally connected with society. People who are underemployed or unemployable, disabled. Some may be simply up against it in terms of a crisis situation for a family, loss of employment. You have a range of people and needs that are presented. Some are elderly people struggling to make ends meet. People can be single. We have young people. College students. Families with children. Little kids. Homeless people. Especially those who don't fit the qualifications of other organizations in the area for service. A large core of individuals have been coming here on and off each day. But the group and faces change. If I came to serve, two-thirds of the people wouldn't know who I am even though I'm here all the time and have served and cooked meals many times."
The Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen was started by the parish of St Francis of Assisi Church in Brainerd. Later, it relocated to downtown Brainerd. However, the soup kitchen lost its space in 1997 and was in danger of folding. At that same time, Evans moved to the Brainerd area and became pastor of the Temple Baptist Church, now known as the Communitas Church. In a sense, the soup kitchen's crisis was an answer to prayer.
"I had decided to do an internal study, like new pastors often do, and determine what we do, the strengths of the church. This church had been founded in 1882, and over time we had lost touch with our community. We were praying and looking for ways to connect with our neighbors and serve the people of our region," Evans said. "At that very time, this need came up. It just providentially happened in such a time when we were open and looking for way to connect with our people."
And so the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen was given new life in the fellowship hall of Communitas Church on Oak Street. The organization came as a discrete, stand-alone nonprofit supported financially by individuals and other churches who faithfully stood behind the mission and work of the soup kitchen.
Today, the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen has matured to be overseen by a board of directors with members representing a cross-section of supporting area churches. Volunteers can be counted in the thousands, including those from between 40 and 50 local church communities, Evans said.
"It's a joy to work with so many people who have a heart to help. When people come here for food, we don't ask questions. We don't have qualifying criteria they must meet. Whatever situation brings them here, they're welcome. And I think people value the social experience as much as they do the food.
"This is a place where the Body of Christ, the church of Jesus Christ, shows up every day to serve people. This is one place where God's people show up to serve every day. I think that's kind of cool. The people of our community, our churches, have so generously and consistently provided."
Evans is also proud of the connections the organization has made in the community and the partnerships that have been established, including an annual fundraiser held at Prairie Bay where all food is donated by local farmers and vendors. Restaurant staff volunteer their time to prepare and serve the meal, and 100 percent of proceeds go directly back to support the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen to put food on their tables for those in need.
"No one needs to go to bed hungry in our area," Evans emphasized. "People come from all over the area. If they're in need and don't come to us, I believe it's a problem in getting the word out. We want people to know there's always going to be a warm welcome; nutritious, balanced meal; and a place for people to be fed and find community in a safe, peaceful environment. And it happens every day."
For more information on getting involved in the Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen, visit the organization's website at http://www.sharingbread.com.