By Barb Arland-Fye
If church and civic leaders hadn’t collaborated four years ago to thwart a potential hunger crisis, Café on Vine wouldn’t be preparing to serve its 200,000th meal just three days before Christmas.
Café on Vine serves a meal every day of the week, which points to the “substantial need for people to receive food on a daily basis,” said Sister Ruth E. Westmoreland, OSF, the café’s coordinator. “We are here to meet that need.”
“We” refers to all who contribute in some way to ensure that nearly 50,000 individuals a year receive a warm meal served daily in a café setting. “People are treated with dignity; plus they have great food!” says Loxi Hopkins, a volunteer with the Diocese of Davenport who serves on the café’s board.
She worked with the late John Kiley, then the diocese’s social action director, two of his predecessors in that position, Msgr. Marvin Mottet and Dan Ebener, and other individuals to establish Café on Vine. They were responding to a crisis when John Lewis Café closed in 2007 because of financial difficulties.
One year after Café on Vine opened the economic recession hit and demand for meals increased substantially, Sr. Westmoreland said. The café served 54,631 meals in fiscal year 2008-09, the highest number to date. “The next year the number was down, and now it’s slowly coming up again. We estimate this year (2011-12) we’ll serve between 48, 000 and 49,000 meals. We plan for 4,000 or a bit more every month,” she added. “For many people, it may be their only meal. For most people, it’s their main meal.”
The café employs just two full-time and two part-time workers. Approximately 32 volunteers help serve meals each week while members of church and civic groups volunteer on weekends. Having paid staff “ensures that we have a staff member here every day. It’s important for planning,” she said.
Food costs — about $100 per year — are minimal because of generous donations of food and money, she added. So far, donations have been covering the café’s annual operating costs; the current budget is $113,000.
“It’s impressive the number of people who volunteer both money and time at the café,” Hopkins said. She and Ebener remain on the board, but Msgr. Mottet, its former president, and another founder, Sister Bea Snyder, CHM, have passed on the baton. They left a legacy that “helped us to build to the pace we wanted to, and now we’re carrying on,” Sr. Westmoreland said.
New board president, Jim Tiedje adds: “Due to the circumstances under which the café was reopened, it was important that Msgr. Mottet assemble a strong contingent of board members to ensure that all funds are properly accounted for. The board continues to work at being good stewards of the money that the community graciously gives.”
Café on Vine is the only free meal site that serves a meal every single day, Sr. Westmoreland said. The café also provides sandwiches, chips and cookies to people staying at the Humility of Mary Shelter in Davenport on holidays because the Salvation Army does not provide an evening meal then. Meal sites in the area strive to coordinate efforts and share food donations when possible, she added.
Guests express gratitude for Café on Vine, and rarely does someone behave in an inappropriate or violent manner, Sr. Westmoreland said. “We’ve only had three people barred from here,” two of whom threatened or behaved in a violent manner toward her. “We don’t want to not allow a meal, but we want to keep everybody safe,” she said.
Cash donations and volunteers are always needed at Café on Vine. “Unfortunately, our job will never be done. We hope the community will continue to provide the support needed to keep the café going,” Tiedje said.
Donations may be sent to: Café on Vine, P.O. Box 3375, Davenport, Iowa, 52808. To volunteer, call (563) 324-4472.