Loaves and Fishes allowed to stay at Wilkes through March with new hours
The Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen will be allowed to stay at the Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church through March. After months of unsuccessful attempts to receive hosting help from other churches, the Wilkes church council decided at its meeting this week to extend the program’s stay and begin serving dinner one hour earlier at 4 in the afternoon starting Jan. 1.
Along with hosting Loaves and Fishes, Wilkes also runs Turning Point, which is expanding its hours next year. Previously open from 8 a.m. to noon, the day center will now be open from 7:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m.
One of the main reasons the church told Loaves and Fishes to find a new location earlier this year was complaints about the program’s impact on the neighborhood. Church council chairperson Dianna Douglas says beginning dinner service earlier will make it easier on dinner guests and neighbors.
“This will help with eliminating people hanging out in the neighborhood,” she said. “From 3:30 to five o'clock,they will be able to get in and get something to eat. And then they should be able to leave the community, go back to their camp or head over to Room at the Inn.”
Douglas says moving the two services closer together will also make it safer for people who use Loaves and Fishes.
“If someone cannot be around someone else because they're scared of somebody or something, then they're not going to be in the same parking lot for an hour and a half with nobody around,” she said. “So if you're a female, and you've had a relationship with somebody, and you're no longer together and that person was abusive, you really don't want to have to stay around them with nobody else around.”
The council hopes Loaves and Fishes can move into the Ashley Street Center alongside the Room at the Inn shelter next April. The building is currently undergoing renovations.
“Our agreement with Loaves and Fishes, with Ruth O’Neill who runs Loaves and Fishes, is that they would try to find something temporary for the winter,” Room at the Inn Executive Director John Trapp said. “And then hopefully by spring, we spoke about April, the construction will be done and we'll know what we have to work with and what we need to split up. And we will try to negotiate a way for both organizations to share the space.”
“It's hard to split it up between two organizations until we know what we're working with.”
Wilkes also runs an emergency overnight warming center when temperatures dip below 25 degrees. So, on a cold night next year, the church might be open for back-to-back services of Turning Point, Loaves and Fishes and the warming center with little break in between.
“While the Wilkes Church Council is happy that it found a way to host Loaves and Fishes through March, we also need to stress that the burden on Loaves and Fishes and Wilkes volunteers will increase, not decrease,” Douglas said. “Loaves and Fishes serving groups may struggle to make this adjustment, and additional serving groups may be needed. Still, we are optimistic that the needed volunteers will step forward and that we will make it safely through the winter.”