The Associated Catholic Charities soup kitchen, Our Daily Bread, is uniquely valuable for its high visibility and volunteerism. It is also a rough barometer of poverty. While it cannot tell you how many people are hungry on the streets of Baltimore, it does register vividly when that number goes up or down. Also, it feeds hungry people.
When it opened prominently on West Franklin Street around the corner from the Basilica of the Assumption in 1981, Our Daily Bread gave a solid lunch to 120 people a day. When forced by construction of a parking garage to move to larger temporary quarters a block west a year ago, it found itself feeding 450 a day. Today, the number is 650. Whether that goes higher depends on events beyond the control of anyone in Baltimore. Our Daily Bread responds to larger forces.
The kind of people served also changes. First it was homeless men, then more women, now children and families as well. For many, it is a first contact with the world of help they only reluctantly accept, an informal referral service to shelters and clinics and counseling. You don't have to pass a means test or fill out a form to eat at Our Daily Bread. Stand in the line, and they will feed you. For many others, it is a first involvement at helping, not impersonally with dollars, but hand-to-hand. Groups all kinds from all over take daily turns staffing Our Daily Bread. Six thousand people a year cook and serve the food. Most feel better for it, and they are not deluding themselves.