Christmas at the House of Bread means warm meal, greeting

Volunteers Jim Spiegel, left, and Marty Larson prepare salads at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Volunteers Jim Spiegel, left, and Marty Larson prepare salads at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

As many Miami Valley residents are opening Christmas presents, a dozen volunteers will be making sure sure strangers have a hot meal and a friendly face to talk to.

The volunteers, many of whom assist at the non-profit House of Bread year round, will help serve a meal consisting of turkey, ham, pies and other traditional Christmas favorites. There’ll be food for anyone who would like a warm lunch, but Executive Directive Melodie Bennett expects the dining room to be about as busy as it was nearly a week ago.

“To be honest, it’s Christmas Day, and most people would prefer not to be at a place like the House of Bread,” she said. “So if they have another option, they’re likely to go there.”

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Volunteer Preston Yeldell, Jr. cooks meet on the grill at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. Yeldell is volunteering while he is home from Ohio Dominican University for the holiday break. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Volunteer Preston Yeldell, Jr. cooks meet on the grill at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. Yeldell is volunteering while he is home from Ohio Dominican University for the holiday break. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Volunteer Preston Yeldell, Jr. cooks meet on the grill at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. Yeldell is volunteering while he is home from Ohio Dominican University for the holiday break. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

‘Nobody deserves to be hungry’

The House of Bread, located at 9 Orth Ave. in Dayton, serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. seven days a week, but people can come in an hour earlier to have coffee and chat with friends, Bennett said. The lunch guests range from homeless individuals and families to those who have a place to live, but simply fell on hard times. Others such as 89-year-old Mary Moore go for the meal and conversation because she lives alone with her cat.

“A cat is not going to talk to you,” she said after finishing her lunch of tacos, a fruit bowl and juice Thursday afternoon.

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Moore, who retired from Kettering Hospital, has been having lunch and “great conversations” at the House of Bread for more than a year. Her son takes her several times a week.

The staff and volunteers know her relatively well, and are familiar with her diet.

“They know I don’t eat no pork, and they don’t serve me no pork,” she said.

She doesn’t plan to have lunch at the House of Bread on Christmas Day. Still, she encourages others to go if they don’t have a family or if they simply can’t afford a meal.

“Nobody deserves to be hungry; there’s always a place to go,” Moore said.

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Taraisa Fecke, director of food services at the House of Bread, prepares lunch Thursday afternoon. She plans the non-profit organization’s meals. ISMAIL TURAY JR./STAFF

Taraisa Fecke, director of food services at the House of Bread, prepares lunch Thursday afternoon. She plans the non-profit organization’s meals. ISMAIL TURAY JR./STAFF

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Taraisa Fecke, director of food services at the House of Bread, prepares lunch Thursday afternoon. She plans the non-profit organization’s meals. ISMAIL TURAY JR./STAFF

The beginning

The House of Bread was founded in 1983 by Sister Dorothy Kammerer and pharmacy owner Joe Bettman at a time when there were massive layoffs in the Dayton area, particularly in the automotive industry. Kammerer wanted to give free lunches to the many people who’d been laid off and who couldn’t afford lunch while searching for work, Bennett said. Initially, they fed a few dozen people a couple of days week, although they did not have a permanent location.

But in 1999, Ambassador Tony Hall got involved and they built their current home on Orth Avenue. They then started serving lunch five days a week and eventually went to seven days a week, including holidays. A year ago they added a second dining room designated for families with children, and it includes a play area.

Combined, both dining rooms hold nearly 250 people, and Bennett and her staff feeds an average of 240 per day, she said.

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The organization has three full-time staffers, including Bennett, and six part-timers. Their annual operating budget of about $375,000 goes toward salaries, utilities, some food purchases, building maintenance and everything that’s required to run the organization.

While they get no government aid, 70 percent of their funding and food comes from private donors, Bennett said. They also welcome donations of book bags and various clothing items to give to their guests. Food and monetary donations can be made on the organization’s website at https://houseofbread.org/donate.

They work to serve nutritious meals, and are creative with the donations they receive, Bennett said. For instance, they recently got a donation of hundreds of turkeys, so they’ve been making a variety of meals out of those, including chili to help keep guests warm this winter.

All of the dishes and utensils they use to serve lunch are reusable because they want to give the people a sense of permanency, Bennett said.

“I think (reusable dishes) gives (people) some dignity,” she said. “This is important to us. This is not a sandwich on a Styrofoam plate; your enjoyment of your lunch is an important component of coming here.”

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Volunteer Jarrod Ferstl, right, serves coffee to Nicholas Ford at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Volunteer Jarrod Ferstl, right, serves coffee to Nicholas Ford at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Volunteer Jarrod Ferstl, right, serves coffee to Nicholas Ford at House of Bread non-profit community kitchen Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Dayton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Comfortable environment

Making the guests feel welcomed is also important to Bennett and her staff. Several of them, including Bennett, stand in the dining room greeting guests as they come in, and they go to their tables for brief conversations.

As if they’re waiters and waitresses, the staff also helps whenever they are called. On Thursday afternoon Bennett helped a guest who had trouble walking carry her food tray to a table. Another guest needed hot sauce, and a staffer went to the kitchen for a bottle.

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She also made sure a young boy who didn’t want tacos, the main meal of the day, get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Minutes later, a regular guest who had just gotten his tray of food, greeted Bennett and caught her up on his health. He then asked if she has a navy blue scarf and a back pack available.

“Navy blue, you aren’t picky or anything, are you?” she joked.

“Well, I have a blue coat and it needs to match,” the man responded, also smiling.

By the time the man finished his lunch, Bennett had a navy blue scarf and back pack ready for him.

Christmas gifts for children

The organization started a new initiative in which needy families could sign up their children to receive Christmas gifts. The lists were then given to donors to purchase the items, and the gifts were to be distributed to the families Tuesday.

On average, the House of Bread requires about 12 volunteers per day to serve a lunch crowd, and that includes preparing the meal and cleanup afterwards. Volunteers normally work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the minimum age is 16 years old. Go to https://houseofbread.org/get-involved to volunteer.

There are always people willing to volunteer, and at times families or businesses team up to contribute their time to the organization, Bennett said. The organization tends to get a lot more volunteers during the Christmas holidays because young people may be home from college and others have a bit more free time, she said.

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Oakwood resident Diana Sanders has been volunteering at the House of Bread since she retired from the mortgage industry nearly two years ago. She plans to get her husband to join her in the coming months, and she will have daughter and son-in-law get involved as well when they come to town, she said.

She plans to continue volunteering at the organization until “I cannot walk anymore, I guess.”

“There are a lot of people that just don’t have the capability or the tool to be able to take care of themselves, and we are here in this world to help out fellow man,” Sanders said.


Operating hours:

  • The building is opened from 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
  • Lunch is served from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

How to donate and volunteer:

  • Donations can be made at https://houseofbread.org/donate or call (937) 226-1520
  • Visit https://houseofbread.org/get-involved to volunteer

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