Our Church in Mission
Food for thought
A Texas congregation’s community breakfast provides more than a meal for the hungry.
The community breakfast at First Presbyterian Church in Garland, Texas, has led one of its members to describe it as “just one of the easiest ministries we’ve ever done.” The idea was simple: serve a free breakfast to anyone who wanted to come. There was no ulterior motive to gain new members. Just feed people.
The ministry started with a basic sign in English and Spanish on the church’s front lawn: “Free Breakfast Here Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.” Sixteen people showed up the first week.
Today, an average of 150—a handful of homeless people, a few neighbors, and a lot of the working poor of this Dallas suburb—come every Saturday for scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes.
One member instrumental in the breakfast, Louis Gold, estimates that the cost of groceries is about $110 a week. There’s no charge for the meal; church members absorb the cost. For people who insist on paying, there is an unmarked jar behind the coffee pot. Those who want to pay know where to find it.
Church members seat people and take their orders. The members know their regular customers, including who is diabetic and needs sugar-free pancake syrup.
The largest group served at the breakfasts is the working poor, those neighbors who have jobs but are barely scraping by. To these people, that one free meal for their family can make the difference in whether the electric bill gets paid that month.
The Martinez family is an example. They started coming to the breakfast when Mrs. Martinez lost her job. She has another job now, but they still come.
A few homeless people ride the bus to come to the suburban church. One man, known only as “Fred,” comes from the other side of town. He likes that the food is good, the servers are friendly, and the place isn’t too crowded. Some of the other meals for the homeless in Dallas ask for a reduced payment or require attendance at a chapel service. Fred especially enjoys the piano that normally sits unused in the corner. He usually plays a few tunes for the others after he has eaten. “It’s the only time I ever get to play.”
There also is a small group of neighbors who live in nearby apartments. They generally are friends—or have become friends at the breakfast—and enjoy the chance to visit over a meal.
Behind the scenes in the kitchen is a different sort of fun. The breakfasts offer a chance for the congregation to spend time together, both working and joking around. And it’s an intergenerational activity. Hunter Williams, an eighth grader, usually cooks the sausage and spends time talking to 80-year-old Jimmie Schardein while she does the dishes. They use the time to catch up on each other’s activities. It has become the highlight of their week, Hunter says. “I started out thinking I was going to help other people, but I ended up having fun myself.”
Jane Els is a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church in Garland, Texas, and the author of Journey to the Kingdom of God. She blogs regularly at janeels.blogspot.com.
Learn more, get involved
Use the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, published annually and packed with stories and mission information as well as daily prayers and lectionary readings. Order the book, read selections online or subscribe to receive entries by email or podcast: visit the Mission Yearbook website