May 28, 2014 9:54:11 AM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Loaves and Fishes Community Soup Kitchen in Columbus was established in 2008 and has been largely supported by donations from churches and individuals. But this Friday, the nonprofit ministry will do something it has never done before -- host a large fundraiser. A Festival of Flavors takes place at Lion Hills Center and Golf Course from 6 to 8 p.m. May 30.
"This is our first major fundraiser, and it's something we'd like to possibly do annually," said Loaves and Fishes Board Vice President Anne Russell Bradley. An organizing committee is putting final touches on a tropical-themed event that will help the soup kitchen continue to provide nutritious meals in an atmosphere of Christian love and combat the issue of hunger in Lowndes County.
Currently, a caring network of church and community group volunteers bring and serve lunch every Monday and Friday, and the third Thursday of each month, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Loaves and Fishes dining room on 22nd Street North. In 2013, the ministry served about 25,000 meals.
"Sometimes it's one church, sometimes it's two or three churches or community groups going together," explained Bradley. Volunteers provide the food, but there are still significant costs involved in keeping the doors open. That's where Friday's fundraiser comes in.
Utilities, cleaning supplies and staples like plates, napkins, cups and utensils are recurring expenses.
"And we need new ice makers and certain other things that help maintain the service we offer," said Bradley.
A Festival of Flavors blends a mouth-watering array of heavy hors d'oeuvres and live music by 30 Fingers with a silent auction.
Menu highlights include mojo barbecue, Ann Sparkman's famed wedding chicken, Lion Hills' signature bourbon meatballs, cheese sausage kabobs, apricot truffles, mango pineapple salsa, key lime desserts and more.
"And there will be some surprise specialties passed around, too," said committee member Nancy Smith, who serves as Loaves and Fishes' treasurer. Wine and a non-alcoholic tropical beverage will be served.
The silent auction boasts a variety of items to bid on, including a lake house getaway at Center Lake near Nashville, Tennessee, a condominium stay at Orange Beach, a mystery dinner, original art and pottery from local artists, small oriental rugs, fishing equipment, swim lessons, and certificates for restaurants, bed and breakfast stays, gym memberships and more.
Organizing the fundraiser is a labor of love.
"Loaves and Fishes has been something that has really touched our hearts, and we feel like we are making a difference in peoples' lives," said Smith. "We're thankful for the ecumenical group of churches who have come together and worked so hard to make this ministry available to those in need. We know God gives us the hands to do the work ... "
The ultimate goal is to serve mid-day meals five days a week, said Bradley.
"It's going to take more churches and more volunteers for us to be able to do that," she continued. "It's just a way we all share being able to reach out with the dignity of a meal and friendship and kindness to others, so that people can just have their basic needs met ... that's really why we started the soup kitchen in the first place."
Ticket sales for Friday's event have been brisk. A limited number remain as of press time; they are $40 ($25 tax deductible). Check for availability at Military Hardware, 1002 13th St. N. Or contact Smith, 662-386-6340. Tickets will not be available at the door.
There are other ways to help Loaves and Fishes, of course. Donations of items like paper towels and cleaning supplies are helpful. Monetary donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 441, Columbus, MS 39703. And hands-on volunteers willing to join in providing food and service are encouraged to sign up.
"It always touches your heart when you can be there and make it happen," said Smith.
For more information about Loaves and Fishes, call 662-549-8607 or contact Bradley at First United Methodist Church, 662-328-5252.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.