For what many area residents know to be the “soup kitchen,” the Loaves and Fishes program offers a menu that’s much more comprehensive than just that.
The Salvation Army’s Brownwood Center of Hope opened for its first day Monday at its new location, and more than 100 guests enjoyed a lunch of roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, beans, bread and a choice of three salads.
Is this a special meal in observance of the new center’s first day?
“Not really,” kitchen manager Stephanie Bishop said. “It’s pretty typical. We serve a good, nutritious meal every day. When we serve soup, it’s not the only thing we have.”
About a half-hour before the doors were to open Monday, Bishop and a handful of volunteers on hand could take a short break.
“We’re really pretty much caught up,” said volunteer Sue Setzler, who is also secretary of the center’s advisory council.
“I think we’re ready.”
Bishop said the new, modern surroundings are appreciated as much by the workers as they are by the local residents who depend on the Loaves and Fishes program for a nutritious lunch five days a week.
“It’s fun to volunteer here, with all his room and new equipment,” Setzler said.
Some of other other volunteers on hand Monday morning included Dennis Key and Robert Wetzel.
“Each one of them is my No. 1 volunteer,” Bishop said with a smile. “We need their help so much every day they can come.”
More volunteers are especially needed for the meals program, Setzler said. But additional contributions of dollars to purchase food and even direct gifts of food items are also needed, Bishop added.
Dedication ceremonies for the new facility were held Thursday evening, and the history of the Salvation Army in Brown County was related. It dates back to the early 1970s when volunteers Dan Wright and Richard Hunter recognized the importance of helping residents with basic needs. A service unit was established, and soup and a basic meal was served on a daily basis.
The program grew, and gained funding from the Brown County United Way. In 1997, the Texas Salvation Army was approached about allowing the Brownwood Service Unit Committee to take over the program. “Loaves and Fishes” began serving hot meals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Soon 60 to 80 people were coming daily to eat, and the lines grew long as they waited for some of the 33 seats in the former location - next door to the current center at 403 Lakeway - to come open.
In 2002, the program here was upgraded to a service center by the Salvation Army, a classification that allowed for further expansion. At that time, the center was serving between 60 and 100 people a day.
The new dining room has room for up to 150 people.
“If you’ve been to the old center, you know how crowded it was,” Bishop said. “There just wasn’t enough room.”
The campaign to build a new center was initiated by a $365,000 gift to the Salvation Army in 2000 left in the estate of Esta Lee Matson of Brownwood. Additional grants and donations allowed the center to be completed at a cost of $450,000.
The new facility includes a dining hall, kitchen, conference room, offices, and a client assistance room. The old building will be used for storage, and eventually for new programs and classes.
In addition to Loaves and Fishes, the Salvation Army service center provides other assistance, including help with utilities and rent. In 2007, 18,469 people were served meals, 167 people received help with utilities, 86 people were assisted with rent and 6,213 people were provided with other emergency assistance - a total of 24,935 people.