Called Cleveland Daily Bread, the idea of two people looking for a way to help the homeless and hungry came to fruition when volunteers served the kitchen’s first meal Monday evening.
Located 453 Broad St. S.W., adjacent to Cleveland Fire Department Station No. 1, the facility is open with plans to serve free weeknight meals to those in need.
“It’s been a long time coming,” co-founder Sharon Barker said.
Starting the kitchen has not been without its challenges.
Barker and co-founder Ben Ronca said they shared the mutual goal of helping the hungry in downtown Cleveland.
The plan was for them to turn the Broad Street building owned by Ronca, a former Christian pastor and local restaurant owner, into a community kitchen.
They and multiple volunteers worked for months to bring the vacant building up to code, painting walls, installing flooring, building a kitchen from scratch and reworking the electrical wiring with help from a licensed professional.
Then came the inspections.
On April 25, the kitchen passed its first health department inspection. However, an inspection of a different kind showed another concern that needed to be addressed.
Barker said the kitchen later failed a fire marshal’s inspection. She had temporarily been living in an apartment in the same building, and she said she was told one of two things had to happen before the kitchen could pass inspection.
A firewall could be installed between the apartment and the kitchen, or she could find other living arrangements. She moved.
“That put a delay on the opening,” Barker said. “But it’s going to come together.”
Late Monday afternoon, she and three volunteers bustled around the new kitchen to prepare a meal of meatloaf with mashed potatoes, green beans and other trimmings.
The hope of Cleveland Daily Bread’s founders and volunteers is to repeat that every weeknight — except with a variety of meals.
Barker said future goals include establishing partnerships with churches and other local organizations to help keep the kitchen running.
When Barker and Ronca were in the planning stages of starting Cleveland Daily Bread, Ronca said he wanted it to “complement” what other organizations were doing.
Both stressed they did not want to take the place of other groups that were working to help the homeless and hungry, and they said they were not aware of another organization that was serving evening meals throughout the week.
“It’s sorely needed in Cleveland,” said Carol Bitterman, one of the first-day volunteers. “There are needy people in our community, including families with kids.”
Bitterman said things would likely be “tough” for the new kitchen in the beginning, but she is “hoping the community will pull together to help.”
Fellow volunteer Ronald Keys echoed that sentiment, noting that Cleveland Daily Bread has been “having had a hard time getting started.”
Dawn Sheffield, Bitterman’s daughter, said she chose to help the new organization in part because of her mother’s desire to help and her own desire to get more involved in the community.
A board member of CASA of Bradley County, Sheffield said she has seen many local parents — both homeless and not — who have had trouble putting food on the table for their kids, and the new kitchen is another resource that could help.
Barker said the kitchen is open to anyone in need, regardless of whether or not they are homeless.
“Nobody gets turned away,” she said.
Each Monday through Friday, volunteers will arrive around 3 p.m. to start planning and cooking the evening meal.
Dinner will be served starting at 5:30 and ending at 7 p.m. each weeknight, “unless the food runs out” before 7, Barker said.
The building in which the community kitchen is housed also has a full bathroom which will be open to anyone in need of a shower between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to clean up for dinner.
Barker said the organization is in need of volunteers to help out each night, as well as donations of everything from food and kitchen supplies to toiletries and bath towels.
Prior to the kitchen opening, its founders procured 501(c)(3) nonprofit status through a group in Ronca’s native Florida called Seminary Covenant Community, Barker said. Cleveland Daily Bread is one of its ministry projects.
While she has already asked for help, she said many people have not wanted to help a kitchen that had not yet served its first meal.
“I’ve not been open,” Barker said. “The first thing that comes to mind is, ‘They’re trying to rip me off.’ But where there’s a will, there’s a way. God’s got the way.”
For more information about Cleveland Daily Bread, call 423-715-9193.