On any given day prior to the pandemic, Our Daily Bread would serve 100 people lunch in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church of Athens, giving people a healthy meal and creating a hub for a community of people often struggling to get by.
That gathering hasn’t happened indoors for eight months, as COVID-19 made it impossible to bring people inside the church to have a large meal together. Instead, ODB distributed meals in take-away boxes at the church’s back door, meals that people eat alone, often standing at the edges of the parking lot or crouched on a nearby curb. When COVID-19 prevented volunteers from cooking in the church kitchen, restaurants provided discounted and donated meals; later, volunteers returned to the kitchen in masks and began to prepare meals that are dished up into individual containers and distributed at the back door.
With Thanksgiving coming, the nonprofit coalition Downtown Ministries wanted to provide a slice of community, even if it looks a little different this year. “In the past, Our Daily Bread did not serve a Thanksgiving meal because numerous churches in and around Athens had gatherings. Campus View Church of Christ and Timothy Road Baptist were two, I think,” said Lora Smothers, who oversees Our Daily Bread as part of her role as director of downtown life for Downtown Ministries. “Over the years, all those meals kind of dwindled, as programs tend to do.”
Smothers wanted Our Daily Bread’s patrons to have a meal for Thanksgiving, but more importantly, she wanted them to have a little normalcy—if it could be done safely. “In light of coronavirus and all that this group of people has been through this year, I thought it would be really sweet for us to provide a seated meal just once for our guests,” she said.
First Baptist of Athens will host the meal across its parking lot. Tables will be distanced across the space. Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services lent barricades so ODB can guide people into the lot and across the space. Patrons will sit no more than three to a table. Volunteers from Watkinsville First Baptist Church will serve each seated person. “We will be wearing masks and gloves and have sanitizer galore,” Smothers said. “It’s shaping up to be a great event.”
Most days, Our Daily Bread serves around 100 people. The demand goes higher depending on the day of the month and the weather. “The heart and soul of Our Daily Bread are the people who come here,” said Smothers, who started to work with the program late last year, when locally run Downtown Ministries took over from Atlanta-based Action Ministries.
“Part of their strength as a community is their ability to help each other out and to share information and physical resources,” she said. “I’ve been impressed to see how people really care for each other, including the mentally ill, the elderly. The people who come to Our Daily Bread look out for everyone, especially the vulnerable. That’s part of their survival tactic. I feel like I’ve been welcomed into a special community.”
Like every other part of this year, Thanksgiving 2020 will be different. But Smothers hopes that 2021 will allow Our Daily Bread to come inside again. “With the news of a vaccine on the horizon, hopefully we will be able to gather together again soon,” she said.
To find out more about Our Daily Bread, go to downtownministries.org.
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