When state laws throw Pastor Bob Evans lemons, he’s determined to make them into something sweet and he’s asking the Brainerd lakes area community to help.
Since 1997, Evans has facilitated Brainerd’s Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen operates daily from the former Temple Baptist Church building in South Brainerd — the church Evans pastored until last year. The Temple Baptist building is one of the oldest in the Brainerd area. When the state Department of Health told Evans Sharing Bridge had to renovate the kitchen to meet commercial standards, an estimated $50,000 in renovations, he took the news in stride. “My angle on this is it’s an awesome opportunity to do stuff we’ve wanted to do for a really long time,” Evans said. “We want people to be safe and we’re really happy about this.”
Evans said the renovation will include new flooring, cabinets and appliances to bring the kitchen up to code for commercial use. Sharing Bread has made minor renovations to the kitchen, but small steps in comparison to what is now required to meet state code. “To take the next step is a big investment,” Evans said.
This type of kitchen renovation has been required of other faith-based organizations and churches in Minnesota that serve large groups of patrons. In 2010, the state shut down Emily Wesleyan Church’s Care N’ Share food program. The renovation cost the church nearly $170,000 and halted their operation for nearly a year. The Emily Church was able to raise the funds needed and Care N’ Share resumed its program last April.
Evans said the Department of Health has been extremely helpful through the renovation planning process and he hopes to avoid having to suspend meals at all. “We’d like to keep the operation going even during the construction,” Evans said.
The Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen started in 1987 at St. Francis Catholic Church in Brainerd and moved to downtown Brainerd shortly after its inception.
When the food program’s building lease expired in 1996, Evans said it was an editorial in the Dispatch that pushed him, a new pastor in the community, and the congregation at Temple to open their building to the soup kitchen. “That was the tipping point for us,” Evans said.
The soup kitchen serves dinner seven days a week to approximately 60 patrons. That adds up to about 20,000 meals each year.
Evans said there are some regulars, but about half of the patrons each day are new. Those who attend are often chronically unemployed, under-employed and a mix of all ages. “These are people who slip through the cracks of the system one way or another,” Evans said. “The thing they have in common is they’re hungry.
“We don’t ask any questions beyond that.”
A daunting price renovation tag would intimidate many. But not Evans. This Sunday, Sharing Bread will partner with Prairie Bay in Baxter to host its fourth annual Soup Kitchen benefit. Evans said funds raised in previous years have gone to help cover day-to-day operations for the soup kitchen. This year 100-percent of funds raised will go towards the renovation cost.
Prairie Bay manager Nick Miller said Prairie Bay staff volunteers the service for the night and all of the food served is donated by local businesses.
“It’s good even for the volunteers to see the restaurant business,” Miller said. “It’s just worth it.”
Miller said in addition to Prairie Bay employees, a number of family members of employees and customers volunteer their time to serve the meal.
Miller estimated about 60 reservations are on the books so far, but said tables are still available at both the 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. seatings. If necessary, Prairie Bay will include an additional 5 p.m. seating.
“This is an amazing event,” Evans said. “Prairie Bay is one of our best restaurants in the area. What they are doing is such a generous thing.”
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.