by George P. Matysek Jr.
BALTIMORE (CNS) — As Maryland Gov. Lawrence Hogan Jr. plopped chicken, rice and gravy onto plates that would be served to hundreds of people at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore, his wife gently chided him on his technique.
“You have to mix it first,” Yumi Hogan said with a laugh. “You can tell who’s the cook in the family!”
The governor and his wife joined Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and his wife, Anne Maher, in spending part of the morning volunteering at the Catholic Charities-run facility Nov. 24.
Since opening in 1981, Our Daily Bread has served meals for 13,000 consecutive days — not allowing blizzards or a gas main explosion to shutter its doors, according to William McCarthy Jr., executive director of Catholic Charities.
Last year alone, McCarthy said, volunteers dished out more than 277,000 meals to people in need. In total, the facility has served 7 million meals throughout its history.
“Catholic Charities does an incredible job — very much needed,” Hogan told reporters prior to stepping inside the building and putting on an apron, gloves and Our Daily Bread cap. “We’re happy to be here just to help.”
After receiving a welcome from Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and McCarthy, the governor expressed his appreciation for the outreach ministries provided by the church at Our Daily Bread.
“We can’t thank you enough,” he said. “That’s just wonderful work.”
Penny Lewis, director of Our Daily Bread, said that 35 to 50 people volunteer at the outreach center every day, serving between 500 and 850 meals a day. Prior to becoming director four months ago, Lewis volunteered at Our Daily Bread for nine years. She has noticed more families coming to Our Daily Bread for meals in recent years.
“We now have three tables specified just for families — women and children,” she told the Catholic Review, the media outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese.
Not all of the people who visit Our Daily Bread are homeless, Lewis said. Most are people who are struggling to make ends meet.
“We have a lot of people who are making minimum wage or $8 or $9 an hour,” she said. “You can’t pay the bills and buy bus tokens, breakfast and dinner without having an option to come here and have lunch.”
Our Daily Bread offers all guests access to on-site services designed to help them find employment or other assistance.
“As they leave the dining room, we direct them to client services,” Lewis said. “It’s there to offer food stamps, housing and other help. While we are doing intake, we have a pantry full of food. We also have a probation officer on site and someone to help get child support in order.”
McCarthy noted that with help from Our Daily Bread, 400 people were placed in jobs with an average wage of $12.50 last year. Sixty formerly homeless men live at Christopher’s Place Employment Academy, based at Our Daily Bread. The 18-month program helps them transition to stable housing and employment.
As she ate her meal just steps away from the governor and comptroller, one client gave a thumb’s up when asked how the food tasted. Another called the center a blessing to the community.
“I’m glad they’re here,” said Harim Bey, enjoying mixed vegetables with his chicken casserole.
During the visit, Hogan, who is Catholic, paused to take photographs with some volunteers and received well wishes after his recent announcement that he is cancer-free. Franchot presented Archbishop Lori and McCarthy special medallions from the comptroller’s office in honor of their outreach work.
“I think this is one of the most important things the church does,” Archbishop Lori told the Catholic Review, pausing from serving meals to clients. “It’s not only feeding the hungry. It’s inviting people to employment and inviting people to broaden their horizons and get some hope for the future.”
Our Daily Bread is a place where “everybody is loved and respected,” the archbishop said.
“I think it has to be one of the ministries that really reveals the heart of the church,” he said. “During the holidays, when we are all gathering with our families and our friends, this is a place of friendship for many. Thank God it’s here.”