It’s 2 o’clock on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, and more than 100 people have congregated in the parking lot of an old machine shop near the Amtrak station in Wilmington.
“I just ran out of food stamps,” says Mark, a young man who has walked over from the Sunday Breakfast Mission. “It’s the end of the month.”
Hungry people who do not have the means to buy food can get a free, nutritious meal every Sunday, rain or shine, from Premiere Charities, a not-for-profit group founded by a group of doctors on Christiana Care’s Medical-Dental Staff and others who are dedicated to serving people who are poor, homeless or otherwise disadvantaged.
“People are in need of food, no matter what the weather,” says Reynold Agard, M.D., who also went on medical missions to Haiti with other volunteers from Christiana Care and recently returned from a mission to Belize. The group served its first meal in December 2009, and initially operated every other week.
“But with so many people in need, we decided to serve every Sunday,” says Chetana Kripalu, M.D. At first, about 80 people came to each meal. But the word spread, and now up to 150 people arrive on any given Sunday.
The volunteers are scheduled to start serving at 2:30 p.m., and the line keeps growing. A young mother holds the hands of two toddlers. An elderly man arrives by motorized wheelchair. A teenager sits on his suitcase.
On this day, the menu includes veal, chicken, baked ziti, fettuccine Alfredo, potato salad, green salad, coleslaw, pretzels and chips. There are ladyfingers, cakes and pies for dessert.
“We try to give them a balanced meal—what we would have at home,” Dr. Agard says.
Cardboard cartons are filled with oranges and bananas.
“We have learned that those fruits work best,” Dr. Kripalu says. “We don’t usually give out apples because many of the people are missing their teeth.”
Since the meal service began, the group also has learned ways to become more efficient, serving even in heavy snow. In the beginning, volunteers worked until dark to serve, then break down the food line. Now, that task is usually accomplished by 4:30 p.m. Food is donated by a church, a nursing home and volunteers.
“We set up grills and barbecue for the Fourth of July,” Dr. Kripalu says. “Our Easter serve was a feast, a great spread.”
Premiere has organized its volunteers into two groups, who alternate Sundays. A number of volunteers work at Christiana Care. A few are patients at Premiere Physicians, the practice operated by Dr. Agard and Drs. Chetana and Vinod Kripalu, husband and wife. Others come from the community. Their goal is to provide a meal every day.
“We know that we are making a difference,” Dr. Agard says. “But there is still much work to be done.”
Photo gallery: Sunday Breakfast Mission
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