It’s a quarter until noon in Athens, Georgia, and at Our Daily Bread on Pulaski Street, the busiest part of the day is just beginning. Volunteers have been getting ready since 10 a.m., preparing over 150 free lunches for those in need.
“There’s no other place in town serves meals every day except Salvation Army,” said JoBeth Allen, coordinator for Our Daily Bread at the Oconee Street United Methodist Church, “But they serve only for residents.”
Athens is best known for being the home of the University of Georgia, but there’s another side to Athens that many don’t notice when they come to town. According to the US Census Bureau, Athens-Clarke County has an unemployment rate that is over twice as high as the Georgia average, and the median household income is only two-thirds of what an average Georgian can expect to make per year.
All of these factors, combined with Athens being the largest city in the surrounding counties, bring those experiencing hardship into the city.
“If you’re someone having a difficult time, you gravitate towards Athens,” said Athens Mayor Nancy Denson. “People who have needs are drawn to the inner city for help.”
That’s where Our Daily Bread comes in.
Our Daily Bread Community Kitchen was founded in 1989, and in the 26 years since, it has provided hunger relief, transformational services and educational opportunities to the homeless and working poor in Athens-Clarke County. Today, the kitchen serves over 64,000 meals per year, and each one is prepared and distributed by volunteers from over 70 groups.
The kitchen has been operating out of the First Baptist Church of Athens for the last three years since a fire burnt down Oconee Street United Methodist Church in 2013.
“First and foremost our role is to serve as a host for the facility and the ministry,” said Frank Granger, Minister of Christian Community at First Baptist Church of Athens, “We provide volunteers through our congregation.”
No matter the day of the week, Our Daily Bread is open and those volunteers are there, serving breakfast and lunch during the weekdays and offering sack lunches on the weekends. Everyone is welcome – except those under the influence of drugs and alcohol – and they are all treated to a free, healthy meal with no questions asked.
A meal on a weekday can be composed of many types of foods. Allen says that her church normally provides chicken and rice casserole, green beans, toast and fruit, while the website for Our Daily Bread says that weekday guest favorite meals include fried chicken, lasagna and breakfast for lunch.
On the weekends, the meals may change, but the values don’t. Twelve times a year, the UGA Catholic Center volunteers at Our Daily Bread, preparing sack lunches with two sandwiches, fruit, crackers and a drink.
“We provide the meals and we’ll have a couple people there who’ll hand out the bags,” said George Dougherty, coordinator for Our Daily Bread at the Catholic Center.
Dougherty expects to make around 100 sack lunches on a typical weekend, and each bag comes with more than just food.
“We as a Christian community care for those who are in circumstances less fortunate than ourselves,” said Dougherty. “We try to carry out the Gospel of caring for the sick and the homeless and the hungry.”
Our Daily Bread has left a lasting impact in the community even with those who have never directly benefited from it, including Mayor Denson, who feels strongly about those volunteering there.
“They’re a really good group of people who are working really hard,” she said.