MORE THAN BREAD ALONE
If you put on your magic hat and conjured up an organization that addressed all the needs of DC’s low-income residents, it would probably look something like Bread for the City. From its beginning partnership with Zacchaeus Free Clinic in a church basement 40 years ago, Bread for the City has grown to a multi-facility powerhouse providing comprehensive services for over 33,000 DC residents a year. Clients will find not only food, but also medical and dental care, legal services, health and wellness programs and, perhaps most importantly, a “client first” philosophy based on dignity and respect.
CEO George A. Jones has been with Bread for the City for about half its journey. Although he was not new to the sector prior to Bread for the City, his work with the organization opened his eyes to the real face of homelessness in DC: families.
“When we think of the homeless, most of us think about the single person standing on the street corner,” he said. Bread for the City’s holistic approach with families, however, is what makes the difference for him.
Bread for the City’s food pantries in Northwest and Southeast DC serve more than 24,000 DC residents a year. Both locations offer rooftop gardens, where clients grow their own food, and staff cultivate vegetables for the pantries. In the summer, a farmer’s market alternates between locations. Both sites also offer social services(housing assistance, employment readiness and representative payee programs) and legal clinics to help vulnerable residents facing landlord-tenant, public benefit and family law conflicts.
EVERYTHING FOR THE CITY
An additional benefit at the Southeast center is its clothing room, and the Northwest location’s special feature is its full medical and dental clinic, open to everyone in the community regardless of income. Neighborhood residents with medical insurance seek treatment side by side with Bread for the City clients in this modern health facility with a full-fledged lab, dispensary, eye clinic and dental treatment. Health and wellness classes such as yoga and maintaining a low-sodium, low-sugar diet help clients sustain a healthy lifestyle.
And did I mention Bread for the City’s 2.75-acre City Orchard in Beltsville, MD, with more than 2,500 trees that will produce more than 45,000 pounds of food for DC residents? Or Glean for the City, their program to rescue thousands of pounds of excess produce from farmers markets around the city that would otherwise go to waste?
Just Bread for the City? More like Everything for the City. So how do they do it all?
Committed staff and a sense of community are a huge part of it. As Communications Director Karen Byer said, “I feel like part of a family of one hundred people from varying backgrounds all moving in the same direction.” Clients feel a sense of respect and belonging, and often come back to volunteer at the pantry or orchard. “Clients feel good about being able to give something back,” said Byer.
Don’t just take staff’s word about all the good Bread for the City can do.
A client speaking at the organization’s Good Hope Gala recently attested to the same thing. Quoting Ralph Ellison (“It is the nature of man to rise to greatness when greatness is expected.”), she thanked the organization for expecting more of her and helping her rise to greatness.
Even at a gala, an event that would seem the furthest removed from the lives of the people it serves, a genuine sense of community shone through. Far from a snobbish affair of elites clutching glasses of bubbly while admiring one another’s shoes, this was a night where clients, staff, friends and supporters ribbed one another and laughed, literally patting one another on the shoulder, fetching a chair or a plate of food for a friend, and having a good old time—while just happening to look sharp.
And as for the music? Now, you know Bread for the City wasn’t going to bring in some staid string quartet or pipe in easy-listening jazz. No, friends: DC’s very own Brass Connection Band, which often graces Dupont Circle and other corners of the city, topped off the evening with a loud, joyous salute to Bread for the City. Long after the food had been eaten and auction had been held—which, by the way, netted an astounding $770,000 toward anti-poverty programs—clients and supporters boogied the night away as the band played on.
Tara Campbell is a DC-based writer of crossover science fiction. When not writing, she likes tending to her own little balcony garden. Not exactly Bread for the City, but maybe Salad for One.