Asha Wooten, 26, volunteered at the House of Bread on Christmas Day. She was one of nearly a dozen volunteers to prepare and serve food.

Christmas isn’t just another day at community kitchen

Many people spend Christmas morning in their pajamas sipping eggnog, munching cookies, opening presents, listening to holiday tunes and defending the tree and ornaments from mischievous pets.

But a significant number of people in the Dayton region struggle to put food on the table and pay their bills — let alone have money to splurge on holiday treats and indulgences.

Poverty and hunger don’t take vacations, which is why homeless shelters and some community kitchens like House of Bread are open 365 days each year.

The sizable crowds at the kitchen during the holidays are a reminder that there’s a lot of people stuck in emergency situations, said Melodie Bennett, executive director of the House of Bread.

Hiacinthe Greene-Modeste, kitchen manager, prepares food at the House of Bread on Christmas. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

“I don’t think the average person realizes that there is that much need in the community,” she said.

Many agencies that help the poor and hungry are closed Dec. 24 and 25. Not House of Bread.

The nonprofit, located on Orth Avenue, served about 293 people during its lunchtime meal on Christmas Eve, including at least 60 children. Dozens of people were lined up when the kitchen opened on Christmas Day.

The nonprofit did its best to spread holiday cheer.

On Christmas Eve, Santa visited the community kitchen and passed out toys to kids. Adults also received gifts of winter essentials like hats, gloves, socks and long underwear.

The kitchen had a Christmas tree, holiday decorations and some holiday-themed food items. On Tuesday, visitors were served ham, turkey, stuffing and colorful holiday cupcakes and punch.

Since it opened in the 1980s, House of Bread has sought to make the world a little better by offering free, dependable meals to help ease the stress of day-to-day survival, said Joe Bettman, co-founder of the House of Bread and who attended the Christmas Day meal.

House of Bread “from the beginning said, ‘It’s not going to be just a bowl of soup, it’s going to be a whole meal,” Bettman said.

MORE: Bettman’s Pharmacy sold after 56 years in Dayton

There’s a lot of reasons people need a free meal during the holidays. Some people face financial hardship tied to job losses, low wages, mental illness, eviction or substance abuse.

Some people don’t have families in the area or they have escaped dangerous domestic situations. Some people struggle with housing instability.

“Our guests deal with a lot of issues,” said Anthony Roebuck, House of Bread operations director. “Our job is to welcome them, make them feel at home.”

House of Bread wants its guests to know that someone is here for them who cares, Roebuck said.

There were nearly a dozen people volunteering at the kitchen on Tuesday, as well as about four staff members, who joyfully prepared and passed out food.

A couple of workers, including Hiacinthe Greene-Modeste, danced to holiday music playing on a cell phone in the kitchen

Greene-Modeste, kitchen manager, said she’s happy to work on Christmas because people depend on the kitchen.

“We always try to accommodate people and try to give them a home-like atmosphere for Christmas because we know some come from homes that are broken or they’re homeless,” she said.

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