ANN ARBOR – Every day for 37 years. That's how long The Breakfast at St. Andrew's has been serving hot morning meals to those in need.
The breakfast program began in August 1982 when a deep recession hit and parishioners at the church saw there were community members in need of food and wanted to help.
During the first couple of weeks, volunteers served meals a few days a week, but when they saw the need, they moved to seven days a week.
"And they have literally served breakfast every single day since then," said the program's director, Morgan Battle. "They have never closed for a single day. Holidays, the blackout back in the early 2000s. The first year I was here it was the Superbowl Sunday blizzard where no one could get out. We were still here serving breakfast. We had volunteers walk in with shovels to dig the building out so that breakfast could still be put on."
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On average, the breakfast serves 60 to 80 patrons every morning during the summer and 80 to 120 patrons during the cold winter months. Weekdays are the busiest days for the meal program.
Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. each day. Some patrons come from the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter located at 312 .W Huron St., a half-mile from the church.
"Delonis Center does not serve a hot breakfast because we have a hot breakfast here, and so they leave the center around 7 a.m.," said Battle. "That’s part of the reason why we open at 7:30. During the winter when it’s below 20 degrees, we do open our doors at 7 a.m. so that they have somewhere warm to sit while they wait for breakfast to be ready."
Food Gatherers donates roughly 30% of the food served, and the rest is purchased.
"It’s the same meal pretty much every day," said Battle. "We have hot cereal: oatmeal and grits. And then we have hard-boiled eggs. We have juice, coffee, and then a continental breakfast of cold cereal, stuff to make peanut butter and jelly, fruit, hot chocolate and coffee.
"We’ve got brown bags and sandwich bags, so they can make a lunch to take with them if they want to. On Saturdays, we actually have a small food pantry that First United Methodist sets up in the corner. They bring lunches for everyone and bring canned goods that have pop tops, so they can have chili, vegetables and other food to take with them."
With more than 800 registered volunteers, Battle said there's never a shortage of people who want to help.
"We have 12 spots for people to come every day. Two spots for openers, people who come in early and set everything up and 10 spots for people who serve and do dishes. On weekdays, we have our usual volunteers, so we have the same groups on Monday, or on Tuesday. They come in once a week. And on the weekends there’s more variety of who comes in."
Elaine Ezekiel has been volunteering at the breakfast for the past 2 1/2 years. She volunteers on Mondays with the same team.
"I love the friendships that I’ve built with the volunteers here. It’s an unexpected, awesome part of volunteering," said Ezekiel.
"As tough as it is to get out of bed sometimes, it’s such a wonderful way for me to start the week. The other thing that I love about this place is it’s incredibly well run. To plug into a volunteer experience where it is so efficient, you know exactly what is expected of you, it starts on time and ends on time every day, everybody knows exactly what their role is – it’s a pleasure."
Battle said she encourages volunteers to develop relationships with the patrons and get to know them on a first name basis.
"We always tell people, 'Food is love and the way you present it to people tells them what you think about them,'" said Battle. "So, we’re really careful in the way we present things and the way we put things out."
"There’s about four to five patrons that I know on a first name basis," said Ezekiel. "Just checking in and seeing how their day is going seems meaningful to me. I’ve lived in Ann Arbor my whole life and this gives me a reason to interact with folks that I might not otherwise."
Joseph Garrett has also lived in Ann Arbor his whole life and grew up down the street from St. Andrew's on North Fourth Avenue. He graduated from Huron High School and has been coming to the breakfast for the past 20 years as a patron.
"I come maybe four times a week," he said. "I enjoy early morning conversations and a good breakfast. It’s good people (here). It’s a very good place for me, and it’s a good place to come if you ever need something (whether it be) food, bus tokens, anything."
Garrett has spent decades working in the Ann Arbor restaurant industry. He's worked at Pizza House, Grizzly Peak, Palio and he currently works at Sava's as a dishwasher.
He used to live in Ypsilanti until the city shut down his building.
"I'm looking for new housing," said Garrett. "I have a housing choice voucher with Section 8 and I got it through the Delonis Center and I have for the last 15 years. So, I pay less than $200 for a luxury one-bedroom apartment."
Battle said a common misconception is that all patrons who come to the breakfast are homeless and don't have jobs.
"More than half of the people who come here do have housing, they're just suffering through food insecurity, and they don't have the money to buy what they need," she said.
"It’s almost a 60:40 split between people who have homes and people who are homeless. Another stereotype is that people think the people we’re serving don’t have jobs. Most of them do have jobs. You see people come in here, and they’re still dressed from work. Or, they’re elderly or disabled, and they can’t have a job."
Annual benefit concert
Naturally, fundraising is a constant challenge for the breakfast. And every year, volunteer Jim Cain puts on a benefit concert to raise money for the organization.
On Feb. 15, 2020, Grammy-award winner and civil rights icon Mavis Staples will be headlining the 11th annual concert at The Michigan Theater presented by The Ark and Acoustic Routes Concerts. Tickets start at $45 and are on sale now on Ticketmaster.
Cain, the founder of Acoustic Routes Concerts, said in August: "I can’t thank Mavis Staples enough for sharing her talent and supporting the work of the breakfast program."
"Jim has been putting on this concert for us every year now and it’s just gotten bigger every year," said Battle. "Jim is amazing at what he does, and he’s turned it into such a huge event and has been selling it out every year. I cannot overemphasize how grateful I am that he takes it on. It has just been the biggest blessing for us."
St Andrew's Episcopal Church is located at 306 N. Division St.
To learn more about The Breakfast at St. Andrew's, including how to volunteer, visit www.breakfastatstandrews.org.
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