Many a restaurant has earned its reputation on a weekly special. Turns out soup kitchens may be no different. The ham and potato casserole served the fourth Wednesday of every month at Our Daily Bread in Bellefontaine is a staple diners anticipate.
"I have heard so many times, 'This is my favorite meal!'" said Kim Lehman, the volunteer who cooks it each month and has for the last 15 years. "People have asked for the recipe. I've told people, I only know how to cook it for 200! I don't know how to break it down."
Could it be there's more to the meal than just the taste? In fact it's been 30 years that Lehman and her fellow parishioners of Bethel Menonite Church in West Liberty have been donating the food, then preparing and serving the specialty for the hungry who turn out to dig in. She says she follows a long line of cooks from the church who handed the secret down to her. But the real secret may be in the motivation Lehman and her team have for doing what they do.
"My job sometimes is to fill in for Jesus," she said. "I do believe that Jesus would be here. So I just keep coming back." She says while running errands around town, she's run into children she's helped feed who remember her from the food line and have come up to thank her and give her a hug.
Lehman's team is one of dozens who serve on a monthly or quarterly rotation for Our Daily Bread, which serves a hot meal to anyone who shows up every weekday from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at the 223 Oakland Square location across from the Fire Station. Staff members say they couldn't pull it off without the volunteer help. Beyond the logistics of serving more than 21,000 meals a year, they help create a place where you can belong.
"We have quite a few folks who come in because they are lonely at home," said Evelyn Allen, Manager of Our Daily Bread. "So they come in to have friends and socialize in the evening and enjoy the atmosphere."
"I would say the best part is you don't have to have any skill to volunteer," she said. "You don't have to say a word the whole evening if you don't want to. It's something that absolutely anyone can do. All you have to do is have a little bit of free time. And then, once you start, you realize that you like it. That you're making friends out here. They're just not people with no faces. They are friends who you know. It really ends up broadening you. It gets you out of your little box."
This year's United Way's allocation to Lutheran Community Services, which operates Our Daily Bread, was $40,000. Contact them at (937) 592-9914 to volunteer or for more information. If you know someone who is hungry, please refer to go receive a free daily meal.