CHAMPAIGN – The bread given this day is humble fare – sandwiches, fruit, chips, a Rice Krispie treat or cookie, coffee.
There's no soup at this soup kitchen yet, but the sack lunches are enough to keep homeless clients fed until the determined core of volunteers finds a permanent home.
The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, the new incarnation of the old Catholic Worker House soup kitchen, opened its doors Wednesday at its temporary quarters down the street, New Covenant Fellowship at White and Randolph streets.
Thirty people turned up that first day and 29 on Thursday – "not bad for just getting started," volunteer doorman Bill Plymire said.
It's about a third of the 80 to 100 people who routinely lined up to eat in the worker house's dining room. But Thursday was the third of the month, when Social Security disability checks arrive and wallets aren't quite so thin.
"That was always the slowest day," longtime volunteer Ruth Branneman said.
Volunteers outnumbered clients during most of the hour and a half the soup kitchen was open Thursday. By noon, a half-dozen volunteers sat quietly talking behind the food tables, waiting for the handful of people still to come.
"A lot of help but not enough work," remarked Colleen Stovall, part of the regular Thursday crew with Marie Wells and Ruth Plymire. They know the numbers will rise once the word spreads.
The Catholic Worker House board closed the soup kitchen July 31, alienating some of the retirees and others who had made it their mission for years. The live-in volunteers wanted a more secure environment for the homeless families who live in the house.
Longtime coordinator Ellen McDowell said the group is moving on, scouting for a new location and trying to raise money to supply full meals to their clientele.
"We want to be a community resource," she said.
In the meantime, volunteers are pooling their own resources and a few outside donations to supply the soup kitchen's menu.
In what was interpreted as a peace offering, young staff from Catholic Worker House dropped off a tray of fruit Thursday.
McDowell printed up fliers advertising the soup kitchen and soliciting donations of all kinds. There are three versions: a "dignified" one, which asks for contributions; a "less dignified one," which says, "We need dough!"; and a third, for food donations, which reads, "We need loaves, even crumbs or crusts." They were designed by McDowell's brother, a commercial artist in New York.
"If somebody wants to give us a building ...," Brannamen added.
The soup kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Eventually, organizers hope to serve meals seven days a week. They're scouting locations, including one north of downtown, but nothing is final yet.
They're thankful for the endorsement from Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney, who urged the community to support their efforts in a letter to The News-Gazette. Finney said the soup kitchen has been important for police, who can direct homeless people there.
The soup kitchen also got endorsements from several clients Thursday.
"It's good. It really does help," said Brett Peugh, a soup-kitchen regular. He works part time but said, "I do this just to get by."
Peugh used to bring mental-health clients to the soup kitchen to help them survive on fixed incomes.
"That was their meal for the day," he said.
Many come for the companionship as much as the food. McDowell likes to say the soup kitchen helps build relationships between the "haves and the have-nots," creating a place where people are seen as human beings and not just homeless.
Picking up his sack lunch, Steve Watson said he's known some of the volunteers for years and in particular likes to talk Cardinals baseball with Bill Plymire.
What would he do without it? "It would certainly make life less enjoyable for low-income and homeless people in town," Watson said.
Among the volunteers were New Covenant member Carmen Zych, a community-health instructor at Parkland College.
"The vast majority of us are one step away from being in a situation where we need help – one bad medical bill, one bad accident, loss of a job," she said. "We are one community."
Interested in helping?
To volunteer your time at Daily Bread: Contact volunteer coordinator Ellen McDowell at 356-7101.
To donate: Checks can be made out to Daily Bread Soup Kitchen Inc., P.O. Box 648, Champaign, IL 61824-0648. Tax receipts are available.