By ADAM SCHRADER
Published in The Dallas Morning News on Nov. 25, 2015
Denton soup kitchen Our Daily Bread has always catered to the homeless. Now, it’s six weeks into a Monday night dinner program that helps another group in need — the working poor.
“Monday night dinners are absolutely needed here,” said Myles Wood, 28, who started volunteering in 2013 and was hired by Our Daily Bread in April. “The only other place you can consistently get dinner is the Salvation Army, and they’re very limited on space.”
Dinners, which can accommodate at least 120 people at one time, start at 5:30 p.m. every Monday at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 300 W. Oak St. in Denton.
“It’s a big undertaking, especially since we’re already established for lunches,” Wood said. “But it’s a need and would help a whole lot of people in the community.”
Our Daily Bread is one of 23 agencies selected to receive funds from The Dallas Morning News Charities this year.
In 2004, everything Frank Hurst owned was stolen, including his clothes. Though Hurst, 79, is not homeless, he never fully recovered from the financial blow, he said.
“I had no place to go and no money, but I found out I could get a free meal from Our Daily Bread,” Hurst said. “They even helped me get cataract surgery. I’ve always been grateful for that.”
Hurst said he would like to see the program expanded to add Wednesday and Friday.
“It would make a real big difference for me if it was,” he said.
Rick Holliman, executive director of Our Daily Bread, said the program started with a popular picnic table for day laborers at the corner of Fort Worth and Eagle drives.
“A board member thought they might not eat at Our Daily Bread because they may lose an opportunity to make a living,” Holliman said. “We wanted to find a way to reach out to them without the large investment of a mobile food pantry.”
Our Daily Bread also wanted to further support The Wheeler House, a group home for single working mothers.
“They don’t have an opportunity to eat with us, either,” Holliman said. “So it would really help them if they didn’t have to pay for a meal for their families.”
Our Daily Bread serves about 355 meals on Monday nights, counting second helpings. Most people who attend also eat lunch there during the day, Holliman said.
The organization advertises the dinners through bilingual fliers distributed at schools, libraries, churches and other charitable organizations.
“The fliers don’t just say that we’re having a free dinner,” Holliman said. “They say, ‘Our family invites your family to have a meal with us.’ That way it sounds more like families getting together for a Sunday dinner than a need-based program.”
Our Daily Bread also partners with the Denton Community Food Center to deliver food to students in Denton ISD. The North Texas Food Bank delivers food to the Denton Target Distribution Center, where volunteers sort food before delivering it to children at local elementary schools.
“The food is in backpacks, so it’s not obvious that [the recipients are] in need,” Holliman said. “We also put a flier in the backpacks advertising our Monday night meals.”
Holliman said the dinners might not hit their intended demographic because of fear.
“Some of the working poor are too proud to get help because they don’t want to be affiliated with the stigma of the homeless, drug-addicted ex-convicts and the mentally ill that we also serve,” he said.
He tries to make it a comfortable environment by providing separate tables for families — crayons and coloring books included. Some play the standup piano tucked into the back corner or bluegrass tunes on the mandolin.
“It’s hectic and chaotic around here at lunch, but it’s a real relaxed and pleasant atmosphere in the evenings, almost like a social event,” Holliman said.
He said the volunteers almost act like waiters refilling drinks at their tables.
In the daytime, volunteers who prepare the food also serve it, working from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The dinner preparation crews volunteer from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. before dinner servers arrive at 5:15 p.m., working until 7 p.m.
“We have noticed an increase in new volunteers, particularly college students from both universities,” said Holliman, referring to UNT and TWU. “They’re ecstatic about being here, and some have signed up to volunteer through the end of the year.”
The dinners make Our Daily Bread unique because they feed a section of the community that doesn’t receive much assistance, Holliman said.
“Many people don’t know there’s this class of people who may have a home and job but still need help,” he said.
The organization is also unique because while many of the volunteers are students, so are many of the guests.
“We found out that there are 600 homeless students in Denton ISD and that Denton universities enroll a number of homeless students,” Holliman said. “We need to help those kids to eat, too, as they’re going through school. Just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you have a silver spoon in your mouth.”
The only people Holliman said he’ll turn away are previous guests who brought drugs, alcohol, weapons or violence on the premises.
“People have to come to us, but our door is closed to nobody,” Holliman said. “We don’t care if they’re from Dallas or Houston. We don’t care if they’re Christian, atheist or Muslim. We don’t care if they’re straight or gay. We don’t care if they’re transgender. We care if they’re hungry.”