‘We didn’t miss one day.’ Breakfast at St. Andrew’s remains open during pandemic

Ann Arbor meal program has run nonstop for 39 years

Volunteers Ann and Melanie hand out breakfasts to go. (Morgan Battle)

ANN ARBOR – The Breakfast at St. Andrew’s, which operates under the tagline “Feeding the Hungry Every Day Since 1982,″ fulfilled its mission to stay open every day for community members in need -- even during the pandemic.

Every morning at 7:30 a.m., the breakfast program opens its doors to serve hot breakfast at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Kerrytown. In its 39 years, no blackout, blizzard or even a novel virus could halt operations, said program director Morgan Battle.

However, Battle said they had to pivot quickly as cases of COVID began to spread in Michigan in mid-March 2020.

‘It was literally overnight’

What was normally a 20-hour a week job suddenly became a 60-hour a week position, she said.

The first step was to switch to carry out meals, the second was to limit the volunteers to people under the age of 60.

“That decimated our volunteer force,” said Battle. “Initially when you couldn’t get masks, we limited our volunteers to: You have to volunteer with other members of your household.”

She said two to three volunteers would come each day to pack 70 meals in the morning.

“We had a huge number of college students and high school students involved,” she said. “Most of them stepped in and said, ‘We’ll do every Wednesday until we can’t.’ We had a rotation of about 15 volunteers doing the same day every week and it was a long stretch with just those volunteers.”

Morgan Battle takes a picture outside the Breakfast at St. Andrew's door. (Morgan Battle)

Funding the new effort

By a stroke of serendipity, the Breakfast at St. Andrew’s held its most successful fundraiser ever one month before the first coronavirus cases hit Michigan.

“In February 2020, we had a concert with Mavis Staples at the Michigan Theater and it’s the most money we’ve ever made,” said Battle.

Through that event, the program raised more than $24,000.

“It was a huge financial burden switching things to carry out,” said Battle. “The cost of buying disposable coffee cups, lids, bags -- it was a huge cost and we’ve been worried about money but we’ve never needed to worry because donors have stepped up in such an amazing way.”

Challenges of a Michigan winter

During the summer months of 2020, the program changed its menu to cold cereal, hard boiled eggs prepared at home by volunteers and other items that were easy to package.

But once the weather began to change, Battle decided to switch gears.

“We realized that we needed something warm to serve people (in winter),” she said. “Local restaurants stepped in. It was a great partnership because we purchased sandwiches from them. They provided these to us at a deeply discounted cost. We are still receiving hot sandwiches each day from these restaurants. Everyone gets a bacon, egg and cheese, biscuits -- whatever is available.”

Partner restaurants include Panera, Salt Springs Brewery in Saline, Brewed Awakenings in Saline and Great Harvest Bread Co. in Ann Arbor -- both of which are still delivering breakfast sandwiches to this day.

Battle said McDonald’s stepped up on multiple occasions when they were in a bind, also offering them a discount.

During the cold winter months, the breakfast program partnered with the Delonis Center to deliver meals to guests who were experiencing homelessness so they wouldn’t have to venture outside to eat.

Battle said she’ll never forget the image of guests eating outside in the snow before the daytime warming center opened.

A return to normal

Now that many of the program’s older volunteers are fully vaccinated, some have returned to assist with breakfast service, which has given her student volunteers a welcome break.

Battle said she hopes to welcome patrons back into the building soon, though volunteers will be required to be fully vaccinated once the change takes place.

“We won’t require guests to be vaccinated because I don’t want that to be a barrier that keeps them from potentially their only meal that day,” said Battle. “Most of the guests that I talk to have received their vaccinations. They’re excited to get it and they tell you. (But) I don’t ask them outright.”

Battle said the number of clients has fallen over the past year, but that she still finds ways to check in on regulars who stopped showing up. She hopes to see familiar faces return to the breakfast soon, because it isn’t going anywhere.

Want to learn more or get involved? Visit www.breakfastatstandrews.org.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.