Loaves and Fishes celebrate 30 years
This year is Loaves and Fishes’ 30th anniversary.
The organization began at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Monroe and grew from there, President Al Diehl said. The funding came from a grant from the Episcopal Arch Diocese in Charlotte and a different grant from the Department of Social Services.
Over the past two years the organization has expanded and they also administer a government surplus program in conjunction with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Diehl said.
“Since we took this over, we probably started out with about 20 families a month,” Diehl said. Now they see about 120 families a day.
“Every month we see 20 to 25 percent new people that didn’t know about government surplus or they finally ran out of funds or unemployment ran out,” Diehl said.
“Probably over the last six years, the need in the county has increased drastically,” Diehl said. He noted that it was not only the parts of the county one would expect because they get as many people from the affluent areas as they do the lower-income areas.
The group will host an open house and luncheon for volunteers on Friday and Saturday at 1 p.m. in the old Belk building in Downtown Monroe.
Diehl hopes to thank their volunteers and network with other nonprofits to find the best way to work together to serve the community.
The 30th celebration comes as the organization reaches its busiest time of the year–summer.
“The busiest time of our year is actually starting last week because kids get out of school, 40 percent of the kids in Union County are one some type of
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supplement meal,” Diehl said. “Parents that are actually out there actively working, that are the working poor (have trouble making ends meet).”
Their food and funding comes from grants. They also have 30 to 40 churches throughout the county that support them with either food drives or offerings, Diehl said. There are also 20 to 30 businesses that do annual or semiannual food drives.
Diehl remembered one recent food drive that brought about 31,000 pounds of food to the organization.
For Diehl, the most rewarding part of the job is gratitude from the children.
“It’s when some of the kids come back and write a letter or they take their allowance and buy a thank you card,” Diehl said. “That’s the next generation that’s going to be looking out for their parents.”
The organization currently operates with the help of about 120 volunteers who buy food, drive to Charlotte, stock boxes and other services. Diehl said one couple goes to the ABC Store and picks up boxes to fill with food.
Diehl wanted to say “thank you” to their volunteers and they will also show their gratitude at the luncheon.
For Diehl, his ultimate goal would to be out of a job.
“I have two hopes,” he said. “One day we’ll be sitting there and no one will come...realistically, that will never happen. The idea is to make sure...we have the richest country in the world, we should be able to feed and take care of our elderly and out children.”
Diehl hoped that should he need it, he would receive help from someone else.
“We’re here as a service,” he said. “But, for the grace of God, this could be (us) out here...we all could do better.”