COLUMBIA — Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen will begin serving daily evening meals Feb. 26 at Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church, 702 Wilkes Blvd.
The soup kitchen will no longer provide dinner services at its current location, 616 Park Ave. The new site is about two-thirds of a mile north from the old site.
The Rev. Meg Hegemann said the church will provide facilities including a commercial kitchen and a dining hall that can seat 85 people.
Right now, Loaves and Fishes has little space for cooking, so a lot of it needs to be done elsewhere, Hegemann said.
"They will have more flexibility to cook here if they choose to," she said.
The church's dining hall can seat many more people than the soup kitchen's current location in an apartment in a public housing complex. Hegemann said the soup kitchen is serving an average 65-75 people per meal, but many have to eat outside because there isn't enough space inside.
After moving to the new place, the hope is that Loaves and Fishes will reach out to more people in need, Hegemann said.
"There are many folks, especially families with children, who can’t take advantage of the small facilities there," Hegemann said. "We hope that with a little more friendly environment here, those people will come and dine."
Hosting Loaves and Fishes is a big move for the church, which has a relatively small congregation; an average 60 people attend worship services. Hegemann said she is looking for more help from the community.
"We need more volunteers greeting people, showing people the way and bringing food upstairs to people in wheelchairs," she said. "We hope the community can help us with that."
Hegemann said the church is still working out some kinks before the opening meal.
The building has no adequate smoking facilities outside, and people smoke right by the door. The church is now trying to find different locations to accommodate smokers so it’s easier for those who are sensitive to smoke, Hegemann said.
After the soup kitchen moves, the church will provide a worship service immediately after meals on Sunday evenings, Hegemann said.
Hegemann said that in addition to news media exposure to help get the word out, a change-of-address notice will be posted at the current location and a banner will be put outside the church.
"Our experience is that word gets around among people in need," Hegemann said.
Loaves and Fishes is a joint effort of the community to feed the hungry. It was founded by Columbia’s Catholic Worker community and has been providing free meals every night to the poor for 30 years. The kitchen has been running in the Park Avenue spot since 1994.
Interfaith Day Center, which has been sharing the same address with the soup kitchen, will stay where it is and continue to provide sheltering services for homeless people, Hegemann said.