From Ellen McDowell, DBSK President Emeritus
How Daily Bread came to be...
Who are we? How did we come together? We are not an agency, not so much an organization as an organism, loosely knit but committed, often dysfunctional yet effective, unique, bonded by a common goal of concern for our guests and our community, and with a “Let’s do it” group of volunteers.
My name is Ellen McDowell. I have been with the Soup Kitchen almost since its inception as part of the Catholic Worker House, on University Avenue in Urbana, beginning in 1980. At that time, the Soup Kitchen, on a busy day, served 30 to 40 guests, mostly street people, homeless, mentally ill, seasonal fruit pickers, stranded folk, etc. There were few women or children. Work was all volunteer.
On 1989, The Worker House bought property on Randolph Street, and after its reopening, the Soup Kitchen grew until attendance reached 70 or 80 guests. Along with the “Tent City” happening and neighborhood concern, the Soup Kitchen, in July, 2009, was asked by those managing the Worker House to relocate.
Our First Home
Although I had a strong affinity with the Worker House movement, admired the philosophy. and had actually met Dorothy Day, the foundress, my decision was to move with the Soup Kitchen. I had recruited most of the volunteers; they were a committed group and although only superficially aware of the CW philosophy, had an intense loyalty to the work they were doing. They took the concern for the poor with them.
Within weeks, arrangements were made to rent space in New Covenant Fellowship, 124 West White Street, where the Soup Kitchen was able to serve 5 days a week. (The Church needed the space on Saturdays and Sundays.) The Soup Kitchen, reestablished and named “Daily Bread Soup Kitchen” with its own 501C3 identity, undertook all the financial obligations related to its use of the building. All requirements of Public Health were satisfied. A donated van began to serve soup and sandwiches in designated parking lots on weekends. This pattern continued, during ALL kinds of weather, from 2009 to our move in December, 2016.
At New Covenant, our volunteers made a strong commitment to continue. Entities previously committed to supporting the Soup Kitchen carried on: churches, service fraternities, private donors etc. Sources of food donations increased: restaurants, fast food businesses, fraternities, sororities, student dorms, tailgaters, etc. Word soon got around that if you had leftover food from a Public Health approved event, the Soup Kitchen was happy to accept it.
Because we could serve only 5 days a week, our van went out to 2 different accessible locations on weekends to serve soup, sandwiches and beverages. Our outdoor weekend volunteers were faithful in rain, snow, sleet, zero and torrid temperatures. Around 200 guests came each Saturday and Sunday.
Who Are Our Volunteers?
Daily Bread volunteers are retired teachers, professional people, retired nurses, doctors, housewives, plumbers, executives, University and Parkland students, a whole gamut of people who find extraordinary joy in their service. At one time, on one crew, there was a Muslim, a person of the Jewish faith, Protestants, Catholics, agnostics, all working together. The Board of Daily Bread devised a new mission statement which declared Daily Bread open to all faith traditions and favoring none, recognizing that the works of mercy, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, etc. were common to all religions, ancient and modern. They insisted on staying ALL VOLUNTEER with no paid salaries, and existing solely, as we had been, on donations, with no state or federal funding. Our volunteer roster is now around 150 and the Soup Kitchen is serving 200+, men, women and children seven days a week. Daily Bread was given the same classification as a restaurant.
Our Assistance Program
From its early days, volunteers became aware of the needs of the guests other than food. They began to offer boots and work-related clothing and to ask, “How can we help this person?” That was the beginning of our Assistance Program. Through trial and error, we learned that our focus was not to assist guests in chronic need and increase dependence but to do our best to lift them into independence. Thus, we devised the Big Three: State IDs, Birth Certificates and annual Bus Passes.
Recently incarcerated persons have had such documents taken away. Homeless persons have often lost all documents, or they have been stolen. The price of a State ID is now $20, which might as well be $200 to a person in poverty. Without it, finding work or housing is nearly impossible. We have provided hundreds of State IDs, sought Birth Certificates, at varying costs, from almost every state in the Union. We have Bus Pass Application day where we provide annual bus passes (now $90) to needy guests, enabling him or her to seek employment, get to work regularly, make job interviews, get to Court or medical appointments without walking the length and breadth of the CU Community for widely spaced services. We have a Referral Assistance Program (RAP) office at Daily Bread, made possible originally by a grant from Presence Health, to which we invite representatives from as many agencies as are willing, to meet guests’ needs or to refer them.
ID Day is usually the second Wednesday of each month, 10:30 to 12:00, in our lobby. After applying in the morning at Daily Bread, guests are met at the DMV in the afternoon where their IDs are procured. Birth Certificates are sent for or obtained locally at Brookens in Urbana. It is always a busy time, with many guests clutching their new ID, saying, “Now, I’m somebody.”
Our Own Place
After an exhaustive search for our “own place”, in 2014 Daily Bread purchased the former Emerald City Lounge on First Street in Champaign, across from the police station. The inner city location is ideal for our guests and volunteers. Our treasurer, an excellent steward of funds, has maintained a building fund, which enabled Daily Bread to buy this building for cash.
There are friends who might ask why the new site on N. First Street had to be remodeled at a significant cost. First, it was a lounge/bar, dark and typically private. Large windows, colorful paint and soft lighting create a cheerful, inviting atmosphere.
Looking at the cost, one might ask, is this the Taj Mahal of Soup Kitchens? If you were to visit Daily Bread any day, you might find flowers on the table, food attractively presented and evidence the volunteers are committed to serving the guests as pleasantly as they can, offering fellow citizens food with grace and dignity, choices which are affirming and humanizing. Why should it not be the best we can offer?
Why Your Support is Needed
Why does the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen ask the support of the C-U Community? The first cause is our guests, to meet the needs of the hungry and marginal in our community. Second, for our volunteers, valuable, committed individuals who have found fulfillment in serving and have maintained a totally volunteer service. Third, for our C-U Community. If the value of a community can be assessed on how it treats the most vulnerable within it, we want our community to shine. Our hand is out for support only for confirmation that the community understands the phenomenon of Daily Bread, values it and wants to guarantee its continuation.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has..” Margaret Mead