HOLIDAY—It’s something of a milestone. In November, Joining Hands Mission UMC served its 50,000th breakfast to guests from surrounding Pasco County. Not only were bacon, coffee, waffles and eggs served, but also healthy portions of welcoming friendship and acceptance.
Rev. Mary Ashcraft has been the pastor at the church since 2011, and free Sunday morning breakfasts began just before she joined the church. She said she encouraged the program wholeheartedly, as there weren’t other meals being served in the area.
“The original organizer of the event was adamant that it be carried out with dignity and respect,” she explained. When the program began, guests were mainly homeless. The church invited them in for a free breakfast—complete with menus, table service and one-on-one conversation.
Ashcraft emphasized that there is no judgment, no strings attached and no required attendance at the post-breakfast worship that follows. Volunteers of all ages—including youth—act as hosts, cooks, servers, cleanup crew and bus drivers. Each Sunday, they serve about 80 to 100 guests. The 10 o’clock worship service means a quick turnaround. So, volunteers cook outside in the parking lot on griddles, gas stoves and waffle irons. If it rains, they put up tents.
When guests arrive, they get a friendly greeting, a menu, apple or orange juice and coffee. Their hot breakfast comes soon after. Volunteers then visit with the guests, sharing prayer requests and praise reports.
Other churches, including Generations Christian Church, located in Trinity and Spring Hill, regularly join the effort. Generations brings longtime volunteer Joe Saltare, who is said to keep things lively at the meals with his booming Brooklyn accented “Coff-e-e-e” calls.
Joining Hands volunteers who make breakfast happen like clockwork, week after week, include Maria and Randy Brandes. Regular cooks—Dorian Morse, Santos Ortiz and John Gibeau—make eggs, grits, pancakes, waffles and Tater Tots. Gibeau also handles the purchasing of necessary supplies, along with Judy Carroll.
Ashcraft said this ministry is a very doable one, as it only costs about $200 to $300 a week and is a very comfortable way for church members to meet and get to know their neighbors.
“Regulars build relationships, usually sitting at the same tables each week, although they welcome others. They have bonded and ask about each other if one is not there,” said Ashcraft.
“It’s a combination of men and women, and age wise, we have some in the 85 to 90 range, then all the way down to 25. There are some families who come for a while until they get back on their feet. One family who needed a ride had two people in wheelchairs, and we accommodated them. They were regulars and even helped with our Christmas celebrations,” she said.
When the temperature is forecast to dip below 36 degrees for four hours or more, the church opens its doors as a cold weather shelter in West Pasco County.
The shelter has been opened 11 times so far this winter season for 14 hours a day. Four other churches, including Hope UMC in Trinity, Generations Christian Church, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. James Catholic Church have helped with this effort. A hot evening meal, breakfast, sleeping mats and blankets all offer comfort.
Much like the weekly breakfasts, they’re offered with love.
--Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Editor’s Note: Donate here to the Florida Conference Hurricane Irma Fund to help churches and the neighborhoods that surround them. Volunteer to bring yourself or a team to help with the recovery. Together, with God, we are bigger! #flumcWeAreBigger