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Beans and Bread meal program

Serving over one million since 1976

A line forms on the corner of Bond Street in Fells Point five days a week. Beans and Bread, an outreach center, serves a mid-day meal from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to those in need. Over 400 individuals come to the center each day to get the help they need for daily survival.

“There are at least 15 volunteers in the kitchen, preparing meals and setting tables in the dining room before guests arrive. This feels like a real restaurant environment,” said Stephanie Archer-Smith, director of programs at Beans and Bread.

Dressed with tablecloths and place settings, the room is a welcome environment to guests. Loaves of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly sit on each table, inviting them to make sandwiches on the go. A host seats individuals and groups at one of the dozen tables while the next group sits in the waiting area, in church pews.

“We want them to keep their dignity. For most of the people we serve, this is the only place they get attention and actually have people wait on them,” said Ricky Knight, a volunteer.

While the volunteers are busy in the kitchen, there is a background operation going on. Several people unload truck shipments into the storage area, walk-in freezers and refrigerators.

“Mainly, all of our food comes from donations. We pick up perfectly good food that restaurants would normally throw away. We get cakes, pastries, casseroles, and any leftovers or contributions. Nothing goes to waste and we never serve anything I wouldn’t love to eat,” said Rudy, a volunteer for Beans and Bread for 18 years.

The kitchen has a giant open window where volunteers come to request plates of specific foods of the day their guests have asked for.

“We have this calendar that tells us where our meals, mainly casseroles, are coming from each day. One day, it could be hotdogs and another day, it could be a gourmet meal,” said Sister Eleanor Noll, a volunteer.

The kitchen team works like an extremely well oiled machine, with everyone coming in and out, working simultaneously together.

“I am the unspoken dessert lady. I always find myself here on Fridays cutting up the desserts to serve. I love it. It is so rewarding just to be here. I always get more than I give,” said volunteer Janice Cavnaugh.

Mainly, the teams that work in the kitchen come once a week or more. The “Friday crew” is assembled of volunteers over 50, some even well into their eighties. While some prepare treats and food from scratch, others seat guests or wash dishes.

“It doesn’t matter where I’m working any day that I’m here. I will cook, I will clean, I will wash dishes, or I will seat guests. I’ve done everything and wherever I can help, that’s where I’ll be,” said Knight.
Sources of support are primarily from contributions and donations, with only 27 percent coming from the government.

“Individual giving and fundraising provides us with many of our meals. We also receive some from the Maryland Food Bank and Second Helping of Baltimore,” said Archer-Smith.

The meal program mostly serves men, but recently there has been an increase in the number of women coming in, a trend that concerns the volunteers.

“I do feel as if we are meeting a real need by offering these services. However, we’ve been seeing more women now than ever. There are about 30 now that we see regularly. I’m not sure what’s causing this but it’s definitely something to find out,” said Sister Noll.

Without the overabundance of volunteers working together, Beans and Bread would not be able to serve its 400 clients daily.

“Lots of places like this, you’re not allowed to have more than one plate. We usually always have enough food for second and third helpings. We’re special here because we serve it with real love,” said Knight.

According to St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, 96,368 people were provided meals during 2003.

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