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Loaves and Fishes visit Exchange Club

Rev. Tom Bryson of the Loaves and Fishes ministry spoke to the Columbus Exchange Club August 4.
Loaves and Fishes, a ministry dedicated to feeding the hungry, is one of the charities to which the Exchange Club chose to donate this year.
“In scripture, there are two accounts of Jesus’ birth,” Bryson said. “There are few stories that make it into all four gospels, but one of the best ones is Jesus feeding the five thousand. My favorite account of that is in Matthew 14. The disciples come to him and tell him they have a problem. Jesus says, ‘You go feed them.’ I think we would be a much better society if we really took that to heart. We pray and go to church and worship and sing, but our mandate first and foremost is to help meet the material needs of our community.
“In the spring of 2008 I was invited to join a conversation that started between several laypeople in our community,” he said. “Taylor Smith, a lawyer in this community, saw a program up in Tupelo where they fed the hungry of their community breakfast every morning. He saw the same need here in our community. He started the conversation. A bunch of us joined him and sat here at the country club at lunch one day and had a conversation about meeting the needs of our community.”
That group decided to set up a pilot program to gauge the need in the community, he said.
“By August of 2008 we had a trial to see if that was something needed in our community,” Bryson said. “We said before we went headfirst into the ministry that we would find out. In August 2008 we set up three trials. The very first one, I believe, was a week of lunches that we held at Central Methodist. A group of churches supplied the lunches. The next week after that we were at Harvest Life Church, right off of Military and the week after that we were at the Salvation Army. We assessed the numbers and saw that we indeed had a hunger problem in this county.
“Moving forward from that we started to really get organized,” Bryson said. “In October we had a semi-permanent home at the Salvation Army and feeding Monday and Friday of every week. We started with a small partnership between about eight different congregations here in the community, and we’ve since grown to about 22.”
Limitations at Salvation Army caused the ministry to find a new home.
“The time at Salvation Army was good,” he said, “ but we had limitations. We could not expand to different days, which was our ultimate goal. We wanted to feed at least five days a week. In the winter of 2009 and January 2010 Cash Distributing Company was bought by several individuals here in our community. Different agencies came together and signed the lease, including Contact Helpline, Helping Hands and Loaves and Fishes.”
Loaves and Fishes has about $1,200 a month in expenses, he said.
“That’s about what it takes just to open the doors,” he said. “I think that’s a heck of a bargain. Our primary bills are rent, electricity, insurance, paper goods and cleaning products. That’s really all we buy. The people that make us work are the churches who are involved: Annunciation; Maranatha; St. Stephen’s Methodist; Piney Grove Methodist; Covenant Presbyterian; St. Paul’s Episcopal; Evangel; Central Methodist; St. James Methodist; Kingdom Vision International; Broad Acres Methodist; First Methodist; Mount Vernon; Wesley United Methodist; New Hope Methodist; Good Shepherd Episcopalian; the Mennonite congregation; Pleasant Grove Baptist; Harvest Life; Hope Community Church; First Presbyterian; and Shaeffer’s Chapel. Those are the congregations who are month-to-month involved. Each of them take a day on the calendar that they prepare food for close to 200 people. They need 10-20 volunteers who can provide two to three hours of work on a Friday or Monday. They are responsible for all the food prep and distribution. Those costs are picked up by the individual congregation.
“Right now we are adding two Thursdays a month,” he added. “Our goal is to complete the Thursdays, and then we’ll work on Tuesday and Wednesday. We need partnerships from many more congregations from our community to make it work.”
The program feeds anyone, he said.
“We feed anyone who comes in,” he said. “What we’ve learned from the other communities involved is that there’s no good way to do it. Take in everyone and give them a meal. Many we serve are the working poor. They have a job, but we can allow them to save that money they would have paid on lunch so at the end of the month they can use it to pay for other bills. We do have some people in the community who probably get their only hot meal from us. We have a lot of people who come in with young children.”

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