Mariah Nichols, Staff Writer
When we hear or think about people going hungry we usually think of underprivileged countries, but what happens when this problem exists in your own community? The First Baptist Church at the Mall located at 1010 East Memorial Blvd in Lakeland made the decision to tackle this issue.
“About two years ago, Pastor Jay felt led to assemble a group of people to research hunger in our area,” said Alyssa Yoder the director of Breaking Bread Cafe. “We found that there is a lack of places that serve dinner to low income families. We have wonderful homeless ministries and organizations, but for the working poor, who aren’t homeless there isn’t anything.”
With an idea that took one and one half years to bring to fruition, Breaking Bread Café is now a setting that is comfortable for those who come in for a hot meal, but still has that restaurant feel unlike a soup kitchen.
“Breaking Bread Cafe is open to anyone who is hungry,” Alyssa shares. “We have no other criteria than that. We serve a wide range of guests. We have low income families, elderly, homeless, single adults, teen moms and the list goes on.”
Since its grand opening on September 8, feeding the community’s hungry has taken on a whole different concept. Not only is the goal to feed the body, but to also nourish the soul.
Once you walk into Breaking Bread Cafe you will be warmly invited and directed to a table where guests and volunteers each have a sign-in sheet. If you are a guest you will be assigned a table number and will sit in the waiting room until doors open at 6:05 pm. Volunteers will be gathered in the dining room making preparations and spending time in prayer. Once the café opens, guests head to their tables where they are greeted by their table host who will get them a drink, serve salads and then get in line for the entrees. They serve their guests the dinner and then sit down with them to eat, chat, pray and connect for a meaningful dining experience.
“We have either our house band or volunteer musicians playing in the background,” states Alyssa. “We also have a prayer room. If our guests would like prayer, they are welcome. When dessert is served, one of the team members will come up and share a scripture or a small devotional.”
This new approach shines a very important light on the issue of hunger pertaining to our very own neighbors, coworkers, and people all around us who can be suffering in silence.
“Feeding America tells us that in Polk County 1 in 6 are food insecure,” Alyssa explains. “Many are children. As a community we can host food drives, kid pack drives, volunteer at local food banks and feeding ministries, such as Talbot House, Lighthouse, Viste, Compassion House, Breaking Bread Cafe, and The Mission, just to name a few.”
With such a huge need for this in our community and many others, it is clear that this café offers much more than a free meal to those in need. It also provides a place of hope and a source of caring people on which to lean. There are also several volunteer opportunities to lend a helping hand and make a difference.
“There are many ways to serve in Breaking Bread Cafe,” Alyssa adds. “We need people to help in the kitchen, front of the house, greeting, sign-in, and as table hosts.”
Table hosting, according to Alyssa, is one of the most fun ways to volunteer. They are responsible for getting guests their drinks, salad, and entree as well as sitting down and eating with them. Table hosts engage in rich conversation with the guests from a Biblical Worldview.
“Our vision for Breaking Bread Cafe is simple,” Alyssa states. “We married the efficiency of a soup kitchen with the dignity of a dining room table. However, in order to implement this atmosphere we need a lot of help, mainly as table hosting. Without Jesus and table hosts we are no different. We believe that by creating community and being submitted to the Holy Spirit, we will see God restore the brokenness in Lakeland.”
As hot meals are being passed around and an environment of fellowship, peace and love fills the air, one might wonder how giving of yourself and helping others can change you as a person.
“Breaking Bread Cafe fosters community, restoration, dignity and action in truth and love” Alyssa shares. “I believe the most impacting moments for me so far have been seeing our guests wanting to give back and pitch in. We have a few homeless men who love helping. They are the most hard working and very humble. I thanked one of the guys the other night for getting drinks for guests in our waiting room and he said, ‘Hey, I know how hot it is out there. I’m happy to.’”
When dinner hours come to an end and dishes are washed, lights turned out, and doors are all locked, the team at Breaking Bread Cafe leaves with contented hearts ready for tomorrow to inspire all over again.
For more information about Breaking Bread Cafe or how you would like to get involved visit churchatthemall.com/bbc/.