In the early morning hours of Monday, January 30, someone broke into St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church and stole our safe. The safe contained the proceeds from a benefit concert for our Loaves and Fishes hot meals program. The program serves hundreds of meals each weekend for homeless and low-income people in Columbia Heights, and has for the past 50 years. Loaves and Fishes relies on donations to fund its operations and was counting on that money.

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This story begins in the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting observed each year by Muslims, which ran last year from June 16 to July 17. Salma Jordan and some of her friends were looking for places where they could carry out their plan to perform 30 days of service as part of their observance of the holy month, during which Muslims abstain from food and drink from dusk to dawn. Someone mentioned Loaves and Fishes to her, she was in touch with Denize Stanton-Williams, the L&F program manager, and soon thereafter the group, accompanied by Esther Jordan, Salma’s mother, pitched in on the serving of a Sunday meal.

“We loved it and found a golden service opportunity for ’30 days of Service’ and for FEED (Food for Everybody Every Day),” Esther Jordan recalled. The elder Jordan is executive director of FEED, a project of the Association of Black Shia Youth of North America.

A one-time volunteer appearance swiftly turned into a continuing relationship in which another Jordan daughter, Kadijah Jordan, collects excess fresh produce from Big Valley, Mom’s, and Whole Foods markets, and once or twice a week delivers a selection to Loaves and Fishes and several other free meal and pantry programs in the Washington area. More recently, FEED has formed a relationship with the Capital Area Food Bank, opening the way to larger quantities of fresh food. “This is an amazing program,” Kadijah said of Loaves and Fishes as she was making a delivery on a recent Sunday. “And you people have been doing it for so long. We just knew from that first visit that we wanted to be part of it.”

Volunteers come to us. Most of the cooking, plating, and serving of the grand Loaves and Fishes Christmas dinner this past December was provided by members of Tifereth Israel Congregation, a synagogue on upper 16th Street in collaboration with other volunteers from the Washington, DC, Jewish Community Center. Larry Brizer of Tifereth Israel said this past Christmas was the tenth year the synagogue has sent volunteers to help with Christmas meals for the hungry around the metropolitan area. They helped at seven sites last Christmas including Loaves and Fishes, which was recommended to them by Catholic Charities, Brizer said. And with its contribution of $500, Tifereth Israel paid for most of the cost of that meal.

Loaves and Fishes is a ministry of St. Stephen and the Incarnation that offers a free hot lunch at noon every Saturday, Sunday, and federal holiday, 25,000 meals a year. Over its nearly 50 years of operation, Loaves and Fishes has grown into a program far larger than we at St. Stephen’s can handle alone. We have the continuing support of a number of churches, increasingly we have the support of people of other faiths or none, but we need your support also.

Please consider donating here, and come by any weekend to check us out, experience the program, and help serve a meal.

201412Appeal1These days between Thanksgiving and Christmas coincide almost exactly with what Episcopalians and many other Christians call Advent. But I like to think of them as the Thankful Days, a bustling time of gratitude and hope. I am grateful for the support that continually flows in from so many of you. That support provided the thirty turkeys veteran Loaves and Fishes volunteer Ellen Baynard, assisted by students from Maret School, popped in our ovens the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Next day the bounty on our tables was plentiful. No guest departed hungry, no one was turned away. We were able to make all welcome.

201412Appeal2I am grateful for the Loaves and Fishes work of Susan Walker, one of our key welcomers. Susan is a volunteer deacon on St. Stephen’s clergy team. In a recent conversation with another L&F volunteer, Susan said that her ministry as a deacon has led her to reach out particularly to people who live on the margins of society. Most Sundays she passes out copies of the day’s Gospel reading in Spanish and in English to Loaves and Fishes guests. Then she and they talk together about the reading and what is going on in their lives. “I always walk away surprised and grateful,” Susan said. “Surprised for what I learned, for conversations that I didn’t know where they were going, but they gave me a sense of an individual that I wouldn’t otherwise meet.”

Susan is grateful for conversations and community she has experienced in the dining room at St. Stephens. “To follow Jesus you have to be close to the poor, in some form or another, and that’s a place where gratitude comes in,” she said. “When you get to know someone just for a few minutes, something breaks down. When you are sitting at the table, there is some sort an opening made, a new space, and I get a sense of that person’s humanity and struggles and maybe some of his story relates to my story in some way. Making those kinds of connections is vital for my life. I am grateful for that; I am receiving gifts from unlikely sources.”

2014Appeal3During the holiday season, it is especially important to help the less fortunate of our community. Your gift is so important because it will allow us to serve each and every person that walks into the dining room at St. Stephen’s for a warm, holiday meal and respite from the cold. Please donate today. And be grateful.

Ed Grandi
Chair, Loaves and Fishes Management Board