SCOOPING OUT

SCOOPING OUT – Volunteers Penny Zacharias and Barb MacDonald fill a cup of soup for meal preparation. “We had a good first day,” said Zacharias. “I’m surprised.”

OSCODA  – Every Monday and Thursday for the rest of the winter season, volunteers at the Oscoda United Methodist Church (UMC) are preparing meals for all who show up.

Anybody who wants to stop by the church at 120 Dwight St. in Oscoda can get a free three-course meal between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Loaves and Fishes is opting to share food from a drive through to keep everyone safe during the COVID pandemic.

Despite the second year of this rule change, soup demand hasn’t suffered and many hungry people stop by to pick up their meal. During this past Monday, the kitchen reported handing out at least 70 bags of soup, chocolate pudding and ground bologna sandwiches.

Every day that Loaves and Fishes serves, they give out soup, salad and a sandwich. Depending on the day, the soup will be chicken, pork or beef.

Event organizer Kay Gaines says this is the twelfth year of Loaves and Fishes.

“Howard Pawley and his wife (Sharron) started this 11 years ago because they were concerned about the fact that we had a lot of homeless people in the area,” said Gaines.

“They were aware of the fact that people were living in the woods and they didn’t have enough food to eat.”

The local homeless shelter at the Emmanuel Mission allows people to stay overnight, but turns them out during the day to engage with the community.

Gaines said Loaves and Fishes is a place for homeless people to come to and get a free meal to help sustain them if they needed a temporary place to go and get something to eat.

Howard and Sharron based Loaves and Fishes on a similar program in the Saint Bernard’s Parish in Alpena. Saint Bernard’s serves a full meal every day, while Oscoda UMC can only do it twice a week.

“We tried to get some of other churches to take on another day of the week, but that never happened,” said Gaines.

“So, we have people from all over Oscoda that come and volunteer with us but we are the only place that serves consistently Mondays and Thursdays.”

Alongside loaves and fishes, Oscoda UMC now offers a new program called “Neighborhood Pantry,” which is a small wooden cupboard installed outside of the southeast entrance. It is stockpiled with canned goods and boxed dry meals.

The program is done in conjunction with the Oscoda Rotary club and Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency (NEMCSA).

“Take what you need, give what you can,” reads the sign on the door.

Community members are encouraged to donate any extra nonperishable items they may have or take whatever meals they may need. Someone is on standby to monitor its contents, making sure all food isn’t expired and the shelving is stocked.

Gaines says health and safety is of utmost concern to the Oscoda UMC and their volunteers when handling food.

The kitchen is health department certified and an inspector checked out the facilities “a week to a month ago,” including the Community Pantry, which the inspector looked over and checked all the dates of the contents.

“The thing that I find rewarding about Loaves and Fishes is that we get to meet a lot of people,” said Gaines. “We get to visit with a lot of people and we fill a need that isn’t being met anywhere else in the Oscoda area. Not everybody that comes to Loaves and Fishes is needy as far as food is concerned. Sometimes people come just for the companionship and the opportunity to visit with other people. We look forward to renewing acquaintances every year. We look forward to visiting with people. We look forward to seeing them go away with a smile on their face because their tummies are full.”

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