by Jeremy Johnson
photo by Jeremy Johnson
Yesterday morning, a reception was held at Parrott Bey to celebrate what will soon be coming to occupy that very space: an operation known as the Lord’s Diner.
Begun as a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, the Lord’s Diner offers a hot meal, 365 nights a year, to anyone who wants one. No donation is required, no questions asked; if you’re hungry, you’ll be served.
That program, originally based in Wichita, has grown to become very successful, expanding to a second location in Wichita, and now comprised of several food trucks that travel to various parts of the city to distribute meals. The program recently served its three millionth meal.
Pittsburg faces similar needs. One in five residents in Crawford County face food insecurity (that is, not knowing where their next meal will come from) and more than a quarter live below the poverty level. Because of the success of the Wichita program, a local group headed by Joe Dellasega and comprised of citizens representing a variety of denominations and organizations began the task of creating such an operation in Pittsburg. Monday’s reception served to celebrate their significant progress–they closed on the property, Parrott Bey and Corner Bistro, last Friday. The group plans to wait to move forward until the last scheduled wedding reception takes place at Parrott Bey in June, and then they plan to begin hiring staff and performing building renovations, which include turning the Corner Bistro building into a kitchen and office space, with Parrott Bey serving as a dining room. Staff for the facility is expected to be four full-time positions, including a director, food director, and volunteer coordinator. Their goal is to begin serving meals near the end of the year.
The city of Pittsburg was quick to get behind the project. City Manager Daron Hall wrote a letter in support of the idea, and many of the city staff actively participated in discussions with the group and other community stakeholders that helped to make the project a reality. The Commission was approached in February with a proposal from the Economic Development Advisory Council recommending $130,000 from the Revolving Loan Fund be used to assist the project get up and running, which passed unanimously. And the city has already committed to providing volunteers to help one night a month.
While the project addresses the very important issue of hunger–which I can speak to in my work with patients at Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas and with Eat Well Crawford County–it also offers an important outlet for giving. What struck me most in the table conversation at the reception was the emphasis not just on the good the Lord’s Diner does for the people it feeds, but also for the people helping do the feeding. One of the members of the advisory council for the Diner told of volunteers who were regularly moved in a way that simply making a donation to charity does not provide for. He emphasized the power of a place that offers non-judgmental help–that exists to simply give people nutritious food, without giving them a background check or sermon first–and the space it creates for empathy and community-building.
And there will be a lot of demand for volunteers. An estimated 20-25 volunteers will be needed to help serve each meal, and that’s every night of the year. However, the group remained undaunted; they were confident that Pittsburg’s many organizations and businesses, as well as individuals, would be more than willing to rise to the occasion to make sure those in need are taken care of. The infrastructure for allowing people to donate and sign up to volunteer hasn’t been set up yet, but the group expected it to be included as a separate page on the Lord’s Diner’s current donation and volunteering Web site.
Jeremy Johnson is a first-term Pittsburg City Commissioner. His term expires in January 2020.