The Kindness Corner: Loaves and fishes – serving those in need

The Kindness Corner

By Randy McNeely

There are times when we meet people that we can’t help but want to hug. I have the opportunity a lot. Today was no exception.

It was my wonderful privilege to talk with Mike and Jayne TeStrake who run Loaves and Fishes, a wonderful organization that serves breakfast every Saturday in the basement of the MCSA building.

Loaves and Fishes was started over 30 years ago. Mary Louis Caponette, now 97 years old, ran the program for over 29 years. Even at 97 it would probably still be under her leadership had Mary not suffered a stroke in 2018. It was then that Mike and Jayne, who had already been volunteering, took over running the program.

“Mary Louis suffered her stroke in March of 2018, and it was then that we started coming in every Saturday and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Jayne said.

“We first got involved with Loaves and Fishes through our hospitality committee at Wesley United Methodist Church,” Jayne said. “Our committee started volunteering, and we got interested and became friends with Mary Louise and really believed in what she was doing here. So, when she had her stroke in 2018, we just couldn’t see it close.”

So how many people does Loaves and Fishes serve, and what does it take to organize and run a kitchen for a weekly breakfast?

“Every week we serve anywhere from 30 to 70 people, depending on the time of the month and the weather,” Mike said.

“We have over 15 churches that volunteer from Fruitland, Muscatine, and Wilton,” Jayne said.”  Each group, which includes six to eight people, serves several times a year.  “We arrive around 8 a.m. to get things set up, and they arrive around 9:30 to prepare the food so we can serve the meal at 11:30 a.m.

“We also have organizations that bring all the food,” Jayne said, “and of course we really appreciate that.”

It is easy to see that Mike and Jane are committed to the success of Loaves and Fishes, so when I asked them why, their answer wasn’t surprising.

“Every Saturday when we leave here,” Jayne said, “we just feel good!”

Why do you think that is?

“I think the Lord put us in this situation,” Mike responded. “We both still work and sometimes during the week we struggle to get out of bed. But when Saturday comes its ‘up and at it, let’s go.’ We have a good feeling about Saturdays and what we’re doing here.”

“I never dreamt,” Jayne added, “that I would be planning meals for sixty to seventy people every Saturday. I can barely plan for the two of us.

“It’s that good feeling that drives us to keep coming.”

How do the people Mike and Jayne serve respond?

“They have a sense of community, of family,” Jayne said. “Every week people thank us for the food and tell us it was a wonderful meal. Even the volunteers that come each week thank Mike and I for taking the time to organize the meal and giving them the chance to help.”

When asked if they have had any experiences that have touched their hearts while serving, Mike was quick to give an answer.

“We’ve had a conglomerate of experiences,” He said. “It’s too hard to pick out just one.”

“One thing that I’ve noticed,” Jayne said, “is that we always seem to have the right amount of food. One of my biggest fears is getting here and not having enough food. We never know how many people we’re going to have. It could be 30 or it could be 70. So far, God has blessed us to always have just enough.”

“We had that experience with this past Christmas meal,” Mike said. “We planned for seventy-five people and we served eighty-one. We couldn’t have served two more people. They stopped coming at eighty-one. God provided what we needed right up to the number of people that came. I don’t believe that it was just happenstance.”

After hearing those examples, I can’t help but think of the first stories I ever heard of loaves and fished served over 2,000 years ago. The food available seemed wholly inadequate for the large crowds, yet there was enough and to spare.

It was wonderful to talk with Mike and Jayne and hear their experience today. But I can’t end without sharing what I observed last week while I waited to meet Mike and Jayne and set up this week’s interview.

As I waited, a woman came in that was obviously hungry. It was already past 12:30, which is when the meal normally ends, and the volunteers had things nearly cleaned up. Yet when the woman asked for some food, Jayne would not turn her away. She got a plate and filled it with macaroni and cheese, got some bread and milk, and served it—all with a smile on her face.

From the look on the woman’s face, I could tell she had more than a warm plate when she walked to the table to sit down. She had a warm heart, and, truth be told, so did I.

Has your life been touched by kindness in action, either giving or receiving? Do you have a story to share? If so, reach out to me at kindnessgiver@randymcneely.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Please note that upon request, I am happy to change names to protect those who want to share but want to remain anonymous.