Paying it forward: Providing good meals for free

The Daily Bread Kitchen has provided that rarest of things – an honest-to-goodness free lunch – for two-and-a-half years in Harmar.

From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Wednesday, anyone who wants to can head over to the Knights of Columbus Hall on Franklin Street for a meal, a cup of coffee and homemade desserts. It was started in January 2011 by members of St. Mary Catholic Church and is sponsored through that church’s health ministry, but the legion of volunteers who make it happen aren’t limited to membership there.

Stockport resident Linda Schaad has been with the Daily Bread Kitchen since the beginning and took over as chairwoman in January. She oversees six teams of volunteers who prepare meals on a rotating basis, plus many other contributors. Anyone who wants to help is welcome, Schaad said, from preparing and serving food to simply donating money to help with expenses.

Question: What is the overall goal of the program?

Answer: Our goal really is to provide a meal to people who – well it’s really open to everybody, but I think we saw a need there. … We really want these people to have nourishment, that’s really it. Especially, well everybody in the family, but kids, the elderly who can’t cook anymore. If they can get in there and get a takeout, you’re providing them a basic of life. Everybody’s entitled to a good meal.

Q: What all has to be done to pull a meal together each week?

A: The numbers have grown. We started out serving … about 60 meals. And now, we are serving … we plan for 250 meals every Wednesday. And it’s actually gone over 250 a few times this summer. The 250 includes, not only people coming in and sitting down, but also includes takeouts.

What normally happens is, I’m actually on a team. … We decide what we’re going to have, and then we decide how we’re going to get it. Not every team works the same way. … What we try to do is sort of divide the cost of the meal among the members of the team. And then everybody brings something.

Q: Are the team members spending their own money or does the church provide some funds?

A: It’s a combination. People on the teams, I know, donate some of their own food, they go out and buy it. … Members of the church donate mostly money. … We’ve had a few fundraisers, and we’ve made money that way. But I’ll tell you, our treasury stays pretty consistent. … We have the money that they can go out and buy the food at Sam’s or wherever. Also we have a donation can that’s out every week. (But) there’s nothing ever said that you have to pay for anything.

Q: What’s a day like when you’re preparing the meals?

A: Well it depends on what you’re making. This summer I encouraged people not to do anything heavy duty, not to run the ovens so it wouldn’t get too hot in there. So we’ve done a lot of sandwiches, pasta salad, spaghetti, simple things. And those are things that people like. … In the winter we tend to cook a little heavier. … A lot of times we’ll have a pasta with other things in it, like chicken. Or chili. … Green beans is a popular item. We try to do it as well-balanced as we can but we also try to think of the season.

Q: Have the dinners changed in the time you’ve been involved?

A: I won’t say changed, but I think that it’s a very positive atmosphere in there. I think people enjoy coming and seeing each other. People that have been coming in there for two-and-a-half years, they’ve gotten to know each other. … I just think it’s a very feel-good atmosphere so people can come in and socialize.

Q: What’s your favorite part?

A: My favorite part is going in there and being with everybody. … When it’s our turn to cook, I love going in there and being part of the team and working with everybody, but I also enjoy getting to go in there and see everybody who’s in there.

Evan Bevins conducted this interview.