Sharing Bread updates dining room thanks to community help: New director hopes to expand hours
Updated wood flooring and brand new tables and chairs now welcome patrons to Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen in Brainerd.
A new water heater and the potential for expanded hours round out the facility’s recent upgrades since Shannon Mills took over as executive director five months ago.
“When I first took the job, they already had been rolling in place some of the new changes and already had in plans for new flooring,” Mills said Friday, Dec. 27, while standing in the revamped dining room.
Shortly after Mills started, workers from Hudrlik Cabinets and Flooring — who made the new flooring financially possible — came to rip out the carpet and install the wood floors.
“And the beautiful thing, too, was that they had volunteers come in and work alongside of them, too, and help put in the new flooring, and they did a fabulous job,” she said.
Pike Plumbing and Heating also gave Sharing Bread a good deal on a new water heater, as Mills said they previously didn’t have enough hot water to make it through the whole serving time each day.
And thanks to 11- and 12-year-old siblings Isabel and Caleb Pence, Sharing Bread has a new set of tables and chairs as well.
“Caleb just has this passion for the soup kitchen,” Mills said.
As longtime volunteers at the soup kitchen, Chris Pence — Caleb and Isabel’s dad — said Caleb started a list a couple years back of changes he wanted to see, including new tables and chairs, new flooring and repainted walls.
When Mills, a family friend of the Pences’, came on board, Caleb and his parents sat down with her to discuss the big ideas. They landed on new tables and chairs, as the last chairs were fabric and hard to keep clean and sanitary, while the tables were a touch too high for the chairs.
“He felt they were just kind of dirty and didn’t look real welcoming to people,” Pence said.
Caleb and Isabel fundraised for about two months to get the $3,000 they needed for 12 tables and 72 chairs.
“They just asked everybody they saw,” Pence said. “When they went to spend time with our friends, they would ask for donations. They asked for donations from people that go to church with us.”
Once the kids explained their mission, Pence said people were very generous, and he and his wife Megan didn’t have to do much to help. The kids ran the show.
“I didn’t do a thing with it besides encourage them to do it,” he said. “And their mom basically was the bookkeeper, so she kept track of all the money and stuff, but otherwise we didn’t do anything.”
When the tables and chairs came in about two weeks ago, Caleb and Isabel helped unload and set them up.
As a parent, Pence said it was a proud moment seeing his kids give back to the community of their own accord.
“As you grow up and see your kids growing up in front of you, there’s a lot of things that they learn from you that you wish they wouldn’t, but one thing they learned from their mom is just the thoughtfulness of being a giving person and just really want to help out whenever they have a chance,” he said. “And so it’s just neat to see them find things in the community that they were passionate about.”
And if you asked Caleb and Isabel why they put so much effort into helping out the soup kitchen, Pence said their answer would be because they wanted to make Sharing Bread a more welcoming place.
“They wanted the kids to feel like this would be a safe place to come into that would be welcoming for them,” he said, adding his kids also repurposed an old hutch they found and stocked with coloring books, crayons and small toys to help kids who come through the door relax and feel more at home.
If anything, Pence hopes his kids’ story will encourage others to get involved with community service in the area as well, especially at the soup kitchen.
“There’s always opportunities to serve and go down and meet some neat people that come and utilize the soup kitchen,” he said. “They’re great folks.”
Service is what drew Mills to the soup kitchen as well. After being a stay-at-home mom for several years, she decided to pursue a change when her kids entered public school and put her degree in small business management to work.
“I had been praying for a place where God would want me,” she said.
The stars aligned when Bob Evans stepped down as executive director last summer, giving Mills the opportunity she was waiting for.
“I love hosting people. I love people. I love hearing their stories. I love helping hurting people. I love feeding people. I love cooking and baking,” Mills said. “And so it’s like all of my passions and experiences and education all rolled into one job.”
Next up on Mills’ to-do list for Sharing Bread is to take the carpeting off the walls and repaint them to freshen up the dining room. There’s also the possibility of expanding the soup kitchen’s hours by adding lunch on Saturdays in addition to dinner. Right now, the soup kitchen is open for dinner Monday-Saturday and lunch on Sunday. If enough volunteers sign up, though, Mills hopes they’ll be able to open the doors for a second Saturday meal.
All signs are positive so far. Mills said she has had to turn volunteers away lately, as many families and groups look for ways to give back during the holiday season.
Those who want to volunteer in the new year can sign up on the calendar at sharingbread.com .
Sharing Bread will be open for dinner on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Monetary and food donations are welcome, too, as the soup kitchen relies on the community’s generosity year-round.
“People need to eat year-round, not just during the holidays,” Mills said. “I think people are more willing to give around the Christmas season, but really the need is year-round.”
As part of a food coalition with other food shelves in the area, Mills said she’s able to pick up food donations from local businesses, like Target, Costco and Chipotle.
Essentia Health helps with grants, and several other businesses and organizations run fundraisers for Sharing Bread throughout the year.
Mills is the only paid employee of the soup kitchen, which also has a six-member board. Aside from that, it’s volunteer driven.
“It’s really cool how many organizations step in and help the soup kitchen,” she said. “Our community should be really proud of this.”
Sharing Bread opens its doors 12:30 p.m. Sunday, with lunch served 1-1:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, doors open 5 p.m., with dinner served 5:30-6 p.m.
“Our mission is to demonstrate the love of Christ by feeding hungry people, and no questions asked,” Mills said. “Anyone can walk through the doors.”
For more information on Sharing Bread, visit sharingbread.com or call 218-829-4203.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .