Feeding bodies and souls

DeWayne Bartels

For some at First United Methodist Church, especially North Peorian Patty Bash, Saturdays are not a day of leisure.

Bash heads up the church’s Loaves and Fishes Ministry, feeding the needy, both with Saturday meals and with food to take home for use later in the week. The hungry and needy are finding their way to the church in larger and larger numbers. Bash said high utility costs are a major reason more people are seeking help.

“This program started in 1994. We started with 60 people. Last week, we served 298 people,” Bash said.

The church released numbers for the ministry last week for 2008. During 2008, the ministry served 12,828, an average of 254 per week, about a quarter of whom are children. Since its inception, the ministry has served 138,000 meals.

“The need is very great in our community,” Bash said. “Many who come in are mentally ill or chemically dependent.” 

Bash said as the need has grown, so has the number of volunteers willing to help. The program averages 64 volunteers weekly.      

That led her to call the Greater Peoria Area incredibly generous.

But, she said, North Peoria’s contributions hold a special place in her heart.

“The food we get a lot of times comes from Richwoods or Dunlap schools’ cafeterias. Those two are particularly good sources for us,” Bash said.

“The Midwest Food Bank is also very good to us, as is Pasquel and the grocery stores.”

Bash fell into this job and said she is thankful everyday for it. In 1994, she was at Hult Health Center when she got a call from Hobe Albright, the founder of Heart of Illinois Harvest.

He knew Bash was a nurse with a background in providing service to the disadvantaged. Albright told her he had a dream of creating a feeding site at a church and he wanted her to head it up.

She took the job.

“It was an act of faith for me,” Bash said. “Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry. It was something my heart wanted me to do.”

As the program enters its 15th year, it is not the numbers, though, Bash said, that bring her the most joy.

“What is really exciting is the transformation I have seen in some of our guests and the church. We have many guests who come to church,” Bash said.

She said it is very satisfying to know they are feeding their bodies and souls.

“But, just as good is the transformation in the church. At first, some people were uncomfortable around our guests. They were put off by the way they dress and the way some of them smell,” Bash said.

“Now everyone is excited to have them with us.”

Bash said she receives something very valuable from her own work and that of others.

“What do I get?” she said. “A happy heart.”