By Sean Perry
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
This winter, Maryland’s largest soup kitchen, Our Daily Bread, prepared a record number of meals for a growing population but they were served by a decreasing number of volunteers, top employees said.
An estimated 997 people walked into the soup kitchen at 725 Fallsway for free lunch during the “Bomb Cyclone” that brought temperatures as low as 6 below zero to the Baltimore region, Catholic Charities of Baltimore officials estimate. Not a problem! Our Daily Bread has been open 365 days a year since 1981, and weather has yet to block operations.
“We had a special menu that day so sometimes that word gets out,” said Volunteer Manager Nick Rudomin. “There are days when we have huge random spikes.”
Tuesday marked another random spike with 900 guests, “which is uncommon for the time of the month,” Rudomin said.
Catholic Charities operates Our Daily Bread and 79 other services with about 17,000 volunteers, a number that is 3,000 fewer than last year’s 20,000, said Rowena Daly, Catholic Charities’ communications director.
Client visits are busiest during the weekdays because of services that attract people like a newly added free dental care service. But officials said that the weekdays are when there are fewer volunteers.
“Most people can’t volunteer on a Tuesday afternoon,” Rudomin said. “If they can volunteer, it’s on the weekends… we never have problems with weekends here.”
He added: “One thing I always try and stress to people is that while we’re a faith-based organization we are open to everyone.”
Daly said the noticeable decrease in volunteers may be connected somehow to church attendance.
“When this opened,” Daly said of the hot meal program, “that’s where the bulk of our volunteers came from. We need to think of new ways to get volunteers.”
To grow the volunteer base, Our Daily Bread has been reaching out to companies like Under Armour for a team-building exercise or to local school students who need to fulfill their community service requirements.
Other deterrents to volunteers are icy roads and heavy snow, officials said.
Towson University volunteers are committed to the work.
“We helped reduce the chaos that the staff would experience if we weren’t there,” said Alec Bacon, a Towson student who volunteered with his fraternity, explaining that volunteers are needed to efficiently operate the charities’ hot meal program.
Our Daily Bread will host a fundraiser on March 10 with top chefs from Maryland at 30 different tables, a top mixologist and the Cardinal Shehan Catholic School choir, which was recently featured on Good Morning America. All proceeds from The Taste of Maryland Fundraiser will go to Our Daily Bread.