Making Christmas brighter

Tradition: Members of a Pikesville synagogue serve meals at Our Daily Bread so the soup kitchen's usual staff can spend the holiday at home.

December 26, 2003|By Grant Huang | Grant Huang,SUN STAFF

It might have been Christmas Day in downtown Baltimore, but it was business as usual at the Cathedral Street location of Our Daily Bread.

In charge of organizing and running the holiday meal were 34 volunteers from the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, including 18-year-old Allison Levin and her 13-year-old sister, Haley.

"It's touching," said the Shippensburg University freshman as she surveyed the crowded dining room and watched her little sister dash from table to table, delivering cider to seated diners with a bright smile.

The Pikesville synagogue's holiday effort at Our Daily Bread was initiated 10 years ago through the efforts of long-time volunteer and congregation member Sally Palmbaum. It gives the soup kitchen's usual staff of Christian volunteers a chance to spend Christmas at home with their families.

Admittedly, the Christmas atmosphere yesterday seemed secondary to the traditional menu of turkey and mashed potatoes. A pair of slightly crooked wreaths hung from the wall of the soup kitchen's dining room, flanking a somewhat worn Christmas tree as recorded yuletide tunes played faintly against the clamorous background chatter.

Some diners, like Daily Bread regular Dan McAfee, rely heavily on the soup kitchen, which serves lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every day of the year.

"The place is hospitable," said the unemployed McAfee, who lives in Southwest Baltimore. "Other [soup kitchens], they don't let you take food out, but here, here they buy bags so you can do just that."

Angela Hull, 41, another regular, is studying to become a data entry operator through a drug rehabilitation program at the Center for Learning and Health. The soup kitchen's free meals, served politely and always hot, are one of the few conveniences she can rely on.

"The staff is wonderful and helpful, and they get to know you," Hull said.

Her grateful sentiment was acknowledged with a smile by the volunteers.

The volunteers were responsible for nearly every phase of yesterday's operation, from contributing money for the food, to cooking the turkeys, to seating and serving long lines of hungry patrons.

"It feels good to help people," said volunteer Marc Cohen. The lawyer and Timonium resident was spending his second Christmas Day at Our Daily Bread, busily seating groups of guests, smiling and wishing each table a merry Christmas.

"We don't do enough, that's the truth," he said, shaking his head. "None of us do."

Among the handful of paid employees working Christmas Day was Jacki Coyle, director of the soup kitchen. So many people sought to volunteer at Our Daily Bread on the holiday that Coyle said she had to turn some away.

"Many, many people want to be here on the holidays. ... Their presence here is a gift to our program and our guests," she said.

On hand to entertain was George Edward Bauers, 54. Dressed in a plaid shirt and cowboy hat, he jokingly introduced himself as country singer Hank Williams and crooned a few bars to the indifferent crowd of diners. "They're awesome people. They do the Lord's work," he said of the volunteers.

By 12:30 yesterday afternoon, the line outside had virtually disappeared and the patrons inside were rapidly finishing their meal, keenly aware that the dining room closes promptly at 1 p.m. A count of the meal tickets put the final number served at 588.

The last guest to leave was 60-year-old Melvin Waller.

Like the majority of the exiting diners, Waller is a seasoned regular familiar with the soup kitchen's routine. To him a Christmas Day lunch at Our Daily Bread is the same as any other, except turkey is substituted in place of the usual cold casserole.

"I'll be back Monday," he said.

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