Loaves and Fishes ministry welcoming in-house diners in new building in Hannibal

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Volunteers from Fishhook United Brethren Church prepare to serve at Loaves and Fishes on Wednesday. From left are Ruth Anne Liehr, Cheryl Dickerson, Kham Kurfman and Rita Kurfman. | Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. — Volunteers of the Loaves and Fishes program were all smiles as they handed hot trays of turkey casserole to those in line to receive a meal. It was their fifth night listening to the buzz of conversation as diners sat around a table.

The Loaves and Fishes program from Harvest Outreach Ministries serves free meals to those in need from 5 to 6 p.m. each weekday. The ministry also hosts the food pantry, Feeding America.

It has been four years since they have welcomed in-house dining. They topped tables for in-house dining in their new building, 413 Broadway in Hannibal, for the first time on Thanksgiving Day after serving to-go containers.

The building was bought in December 2022 and has been under construction to create a commercial kitchen and room to allow diners to sit together and enjoy a meal around a table.

Billie Vavra, manager of the Loaves of the Fishes program, said it was a big push to meet their goal to offer in-house service on Thanksgiving Day. 

“It was prayed for and it was a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat, a lot of tears and a lot of hoops to jump through,” Vavra said. “By the middle of the afternoon Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving) we got the last go ahead that we could have our dining inside and that we passed all of our inspections. We set the tables up Wednesday night.” 

Many outside entities volunteer each night to provide food and serve meals at Loaves and Fishes. Volunteers from Fishhook United Brethren Church from Fishhook, Ill., were there on Wednesday night. The group has been traveling 40 miles every several months for three or four years to serve at Loaves and Fishes. 

“We just like to serve the people and make sure that they have something to eat. So we just like to help other people and feed other people and minister to people this way,” said Harold Mark Dickerson, pastor of Fishhook United Brethren Church. “They don’t always have a hot meal or the opportunity to have a good time and good fellowship. This is going to meet a lot of needs, and I’m glad to see it done.” 

Having more time to spend with the people coming to get food also gives them an opportunity to help connect them with other needed services. Vavra said they are working to get other local services there to help prevent homelessness, help with Medicaid and evaluate other needs they can meet.

“My objective is to ask some of those people to come and sit and maybe ask you know, ‘What can I do to help you today?’ Homelessness is the big thing right now with it being so cold and we’re trying to see if we can start getting those services here,” she said.  

Vavra said she has received positive responses from other organizations about helping, and she hopes to soon have more help available for those who come in the door.

“So it’s not just a food program here. It’s a community program,” she said. “That’s what we’re wanting, to get everybody involved with help that needs it.”

Vavra said one need they are seeing for winter wear, as many are coming in without coats — including children. Those who want to donate clothing should take items to Mission 180 at 201 N. Hawkins in Hannibal.

To donate food items for Feeding America or Loaves and Fishes visit Harvest Outreach Ministries.

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