In spring 2007, Taylor Smith, a Columbus attorney studying in the Permanent Deaconate program of the Episcopal Church, was interested in developing a project that would lead to Servant Ministry.
He contacted the Rev. Sandra DePriest, of Good Shepherd Epsicopal Church, for her suggestions. DePriest was aware of the seeds of conversation surrounding a community soup kitchen, so she and Smith met with several local pastors and priests to see if they had a shared interest in pursuing this program.
After much discussion, it was determined that there was a sincere interest regarding the possibility of developing a soup kitchen for Columbus.
DePriest and Smith contacted several area churches and community organizations in an effort to organize the soup kitchen. The first meeting of interested parties brought a tremendous response and the organizational plan was set in motion.
Smith, along with his wife, Nancy, and Pam Rhea, who was also studying in the Episcopal Church Deaconate Program, began visiting various soup kitchens in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Jackson and Meridian to formulate ideas for the establishment of a soup kitchen for Columbus. Over the next months, several meetings were held, and the result was an outpouring of compassion for the program and the development of an ecumenical movement among churches city wide.
It so happened that during the summer of 2007, as part of his deaconal training, Smith began working as a pastoral assistant at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, in Tupelo. All Saints’ had a breakfast ministry five days a week for the homeless and working poor. Smith was able to see the ministry in action and was then further motivated to help develop a similar ministry in Columbus.
In the late summer and early fall of 2008, under the name Loaves & Fishes, three weeks of trial runs were held to determine if there was a need for such a ministry in Columbus. One week, the meals were served at Central Methodist Church, the next week at Harvest Life Church and the third week at the Salvation Army kitchen. In those three weeks, the trial program served every day, feeding 85-110 people at each setting. Thereafter, more and more churches joined the efforts of the soup kitchen. Through their generous donations and participation and the Salvation Army’s willingness to rent Loaves & Fishes the use of their kitchen and dining facilities, Loaves and Fishes of Columbus, MS, became a reality.
After a few months of operations at the Salvation Army kitchen, the opportunity to lease kitchen and dining space became available right next door in the old Cash Distributing building. On a wing and a prayer, L&F signed a lease for the space to set up a more permanent serving location. It was the best decision for the program’s growth. The location provided easy access to the many patrons who found themselves in need of food.
Currently, 21 churches or organizations serve meals to the needy on a weekly, monthly or quarterly rotation. Loaves & Fishes is always open to new groups who wish to participate in this ministry. Before the 2020 pandemic, 100-250 people were served each day. For several years, about 25,000 meals were served annually.
Since the pandemic, changes to the normal serving procedures were made to accommodate for social distancing and for the other required safety regulations. The program was forced to close completely in 2020 for about three weeks due to the pandemic.
But the need and calling to find a way to continue serving hungry and needy patrons who desperately needed food and encouragement in that difficult time was developed.
Today, Loaves & Fishes provides nutritious meals in its sack lunch program. Beginning in 2021, the program was able to again serve hot meals to-go on some days. Each serving team determines its weekly menu. Meal service is provided from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. five days each week. L&F looks forward to being able to invite patrons back inside for a sit-down lunch; but, until then, it is thankful that it has come up with a way to continue this vital community service. In 2020, 15,125 meals were served. At the end of September 2021, 19,000 meals have been served to date.
Loaves & Fishes, located at 223 22nd Street North in Columbus, is a diverse organization, including churches of all denominations and faith, business organizations, groups from Columbus Air Force Base and other local groups. They serve a diverse population of folks who need assistance. Its policy is to serve anyone who comes to the door for assistance. There is no criteria for receiving a meal. Everyone is welcome.
This year, L&F cooperated with the Golden Triangle Regional Homeless Coalition to provide meals for the Warming Shelter during the cold months and the Cooling Shelter during the summer.
Loaves & Fishes is a locally operated agency. It was organized as a Mississippi nonprofit corporation on May 28, 2009. There are no state, local or national affiliations. The ministry is operated by a local board of directors made up of elected officials, committee chairmen and member churches/organizations. All of the program’s business is conducted by volunteers. There is only one paid employee, who provides janitorial services for the building. The organization is very thankful to the many who work diligently to allow the organization to function efficiently and lovingly in the service of others.
Loaves & Fishes is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, registered in the state of Mississippi. Donations to support Loaves & Fishes are tax deductible. They are always seeking new churches/organizations to join their efforts and welcome any monetary donations in support of the ministry. They are supported by fundraisers, individual and corporate donations, grants, Emergency Food and Shelter Program funding administered by the United Way. This year, help also came from the CARES Act and 100+Women.
While food service is provided to the patrons by the generous support of member groups/serving teams, Loaves & Fishes depends on funding in support of the multiple expenses required to operate the organization … rent, utilities, insurance, equipment, supplies for feeding patrons, supplies for a healthy work environment for the serving teams and for the patrons, etc.
The mailing address for the Loaves & Fishes Community Soup Kitchen of Columbus, MS, is PO Box 441, Columbus, MS 39703. To learn how to help or for general questions, email columbusmsloeavesandfishes @gmail.com .