Our Daily Bread plan achieves compromise

Catholic Charities: Proposal to move soup kitchen, bolster services satisfies varied concerns.

April 28, 1999

WHEN THE downtown business community and cultural institutions complained last year about the impact of Maryland's largest soup kitchen, Our Daily Bread, a compromise seemed a long shot.

Associated Catholic Charities, which serves lunch to more than 800 people a day at Our Daily Bread, took the challenge to heart. Its proposal, unveiled yesterday, won't satisfy everyone, but it nimbly addresses several conflicting concerns.

The $20 million plan includes moving Our Daily Bread to a site just east of Interstate 83 and north of the state prison; adding job training and a men's shelter to that location after an old garage is razed; and moving a daytime shelter for women and children called My Sister's Place to the current Our Daily Bread building, opposite the Enoch Pratt Central Library.

Catholic Charities has served lunch to the needy at Our Daily Bread since 1981. This proposal would protect that vital response, 13 blocks northeast of the current Cathedral Street location and farther from the business core.

The plan also enables Catholic Charities to expand services, in answer to criticism that the soup kitchen addressed hunger, but not its root causes, such as joblessness. Moving a day shelter for 100 women and children from West Mulberry Street to the Cathedral Street building allows the church to maintain a charitable presence beside the historic Basilica of the Assumption, the first Roman Catholic cathedral in North America.

Business people who would prefer not to see any social service agency at that location will be disappointed; others will be cheered by a change to serve women and children in a multifaceted program, more structured and contained than a noon meal that attracts mainly men.

Our Daily Bread received excessive blame for vagrants downtown, property devaluation and crime, but it undeniably draws hundreds of poor people at midday to the commercial district. Feeding the hungry and strengthening downtown are objectives that need not be at loggerheads.

Orioles' principal owner Peter B. Angelos has purchased the site for the new Our Daily Bread and will donate it. The charity has $5 million and needs $14 million more. If that goal can be met, church officials say they will proceed. To their credit, they took criticism of Our Daily Bread as seriously as the mission to help the hungry.

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