Needy grateful to Grateful Bread
The holidays are a time of giving, togetherness and, often, financial strain.
For many, only a paycheque stands between themselves and true hardship.
Organisers of monthly feeding programme, The Grateful Bread, have come to understand this sobering reality through the stories of their guests.
More than 200 people showed up to eat at the group's twelfth dinner at St Andrew's Church, Hamilton, last Thursday.
“We're so excited at how the lists of donors, guests and hosts have grown substantially,” said Julianna Snelling, a partner at Canterbury Law, who started the community feeding in January.
“People really want to give, but they don't just want to write a cheque anymore. They want to physically be somewhere, to give in a meaningful way.”
Over the year, the group has grown from 30 volunteers to a pool of 130.
She and her co-organisers, executive assistants Diane Steede and Suzi Outerbridge, spend the last Thursday of the month picking up food, sending e-mails and handing out flyers.
“My business partner Paul Harshaw is very supportive. He doesn't see us once a month,” she laughed.
Ms Steede visits fellow feeding programmes over the week ahead to raise awareness..
“One guy always wants to give me a hug every time he sees me,” she said. “They tell me their ideas. We try to meet their needs so they're happy once a month.”
Their guests really look forwards to it, but, Ms Snelling added: “It's easy to be popular once a month. The people that do the amazing work are those that feed all week. Hats off to them.”
Ms Snelling used to work with Anglican Bishop of Bermuda, the Right Reverend Nicholas Dill's feeding programme at St Augustine's. Ms Steede helped at Warwick Holiness Church. When they ended, the pair began looking for another way to give.
Ms Snelling called on St Andrew's trustee Leon Amos to use the church hall.
“He just gave us a key,” she said. “We use their electricity, their kitchen, they're hugely trusting of us and I hope that continues because we're so lucky.”
The location is just a place to gather and it is non-religious.
“We're just a group of people, both sides of the community, trying to come together in fellowship,” Ms Snelling said. “No race, no politics, no class, no religion, just sharing gratitude together.
“For the fortunate people who never have to worry about paying for a nice meal out, it's about sharing that joy and luck with people that can't.”
Many people have said it's the only nutritious meal they will have that week.
“It's amazing to be part of it,” Ms Steede said. “It's a lot of work, but when you get there and they tell you their stories, you learn that some of us are really just a paycheque away.
“You sit there and think, ‘Wow, this could be me.'”
Guests are welcome to pack up leftovers to take home. She said many worry that they will appear greedy.
Ms Outerbridge said: “One woman confided to me that she had a mortgage, but had lost her husband. Her sister also lost her husband and they were both trying to help each other.
“With five kids between them, she told me they were not being greedy, but the food would last a week. She said she had a house but couldn't feed her family and keep a roof over their head at the same time.”
Martha Thorson-Gould and Fiona Luck run a donation table, started three months ago, to give out clothes, household items, blankets and shoes.
Toiletries are “gold”, with everyone looking for shower gel and shaving cream. The group of people who turn out to help are a diverse bunch.
“We've got children serving from age six all the way up to grandparents; a lot of people bring their houseguests,” Ms Snelling said.
She believes it works to close a social divide.
She said: “Sadly, as integrated as we are economically and politically, we still all go our separate ways socially.
“This tries to break down that social barrier because it's not just people getting together to serve, it's mingling and enjoying being exposed to a total cross-section of Bermuda's community.
“I challenge people to not hide behind their table. Don't hide in the kitchen; sit down for a few minutes and you'll hear a lot of people's stories.”
Despite their success, Ms Outerbridge is concerned that they're not reaching the island's true homeless.
“I don't know how we can get them to come,” she pleaded. “We have given flyers to other groups to hand to people they feed. We're hoping that it gets to the right people.”
As it's not a charity, the group does not accept monetary donations. Food and other necessary items are all donated.
Marketplace, La Trattoria, Bermuda Waterworks, The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club's chef Michiko, Prime's Place, House of India, Docksider's and Blu donate food and drink every month. Ms Snelling's firm supplies cake.
“Some people really give generously each month, not just with the food that they're buying but also their time,” Ms Outerbridge said. “We've got a couple of people who are completely dedicated. They are there every single month, until the bitter end.”
Added Ms Snelling: “I'm always very nervous on the day that nobody will show up, or we'll run out of food, or there's going to be 100 people outside the building that can't get in. I shrug my shoulders and say, God provides, because it seems to have worked out beautifully each and every month.”
•To volunteer or enjoy a meal, join the Grateful Bread at St Andrew's at 5.30pm on the last Thursday of every month