COLUMBIA — The smell of fresh lasagna filled the air as hungry people poured into Loaves and Fishes’ new location at the Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church on Sunday evening.
Loaves and Fishes is a soup kitchen that is free to the public and open every day from 5 to 6:15 p.m. It was originally at 616 Park Ave. but recently moved to the church at 702 Wilkes Blvd. so it could have a bigger kitchen and dining room.
“If you had more than four in the (old) kitchen, you probably had to be related,” Ruth O' Neill, a member of Columbia’s Catholic Worker Community, said with a laugh. “We only had room to seat about 18 people at the old place. This one seats between 50 and 60.”
O' Neill compared the size of the old dining room to that of the new kitchen. She said everyone involved is excited that they were finally able to make the switch.
Loaves and Fishes has volunteers from different organizations every night of the week. The St. Andrews Evangelical Lutheran Church crew has been helping out for three years, and members of the Jewish community will provide dessert on Sunday evenings, O' Neill said. Other volunteers come from women’s circles and men’s groups. There are a lot of people out there who want to help, she said.
“The people already know each other well,” Julia Will, a volunteer and associate pastor with St. Andrews Church, said. “To take that relationship and take it into service provides a strong outcome.”
Will enjoys what the new facilities offer, she said. There is more space to work with, and it is easier to keep clean than the previous location. She also said she is glad that they moved the soup kitchen into a church because it provides a more hospitable feeling.
Melissa Stormont, the head coordinator of the volunteers with St. Andrews Church, said she has been helping out at Loaves and Fishes for almost three years. She said she begins to recognize faces over the years, which can be tough. She said it is especially hard to see young adults seeking help, but she is very glad she can make life easier for those who need it.
The members of Loaves and Fishes had been trying to find a new place for some time. After the church addressed accessibility issues by adding a lift in the front of the building for people who use a wheelchair, the move was finished within a month, O'Neill said.
At 5 p.m. on opening night, several people, far more than previously possible, were lined up waiting for their food. The tables were filled in the dining room, and volunteers and guests alike were smiling throughout the building.
The Columbia’s Catholic Worker Community has been running Loaves and Fishes for nearly 30 years, having been in its previous location at 616 Park Ave. since 1994.