Café on Vine extends hours to help close hunger gap

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Three men waited outside Café on Vine in the damp weather Monday morning, a few minutes before the meal site opened its doors to serve breakfast for the first time. “Boy, I hope people show up,” one man said to the others. Paraphrasing a line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” another man declared: “If they make it, they will come!”

Barb Arland-Fye
Cafe on Vine in Davenport began serving breakfast May 21 to help fill a meal gap in the community. Derek Vance, the cafe’s daily kitchen manager, passes a plate of biscuits and gravy to volunteer Sandy Cosier while Margot Hary of The Center in Davenport stands ready to hand out bananas and glasses of milk.

His prediction proved true. Fifty-eight people enjoyed a hot breakfast of biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, sausage, bananas, baked goods and peanut butter and jelly. Many of them would have gone without, otherwise. Café on Vine and Christians Who Care Ministry are collaborating to provide breakfast Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. at the café, which already serves lunch six days a week and dinner on Sundays.

The two nonprofits agreed to partner for breakfast in response to the closing of Timothy’s House of Hope in Davenport, which served breakfast three times a week to people in need. An anonymous survey that Café on Vine conducted among its guests pointed to a breakfast gap for people in need, Executive Director Waunita Sullivan said.

May 21 was opening day. Sullivan and Pastor Larry Thomas of Christians Who Care greeted their guests with warm smiles and hugs. At the serving counter, Café on Vine’s daily kitchen manager Derek Vance asked a guest, “two biscuits or one?” “Would you like gravy with that?” Christians Who Care volunteer Sandy Cosier dished out scrambled eggs and told the guest, “You have a blessed day.”

Donnie Brown, a longtime diner at Timothy’s House of Hope, was brokenhearted about that meal site closing. Thomas and volunteer Willo Salter of Christians Who Care invited Brown to come to the Café for breakfast and he’s glad he did. The breakfast “is really good,” he said.
Home-cooking is part of the draw. While volunteering at Timothy’s, Salter baked biscuits at home and brought them to the meal site. Now she has a new venue at Café on Vine. “This setup, it’s fabulous, and Waunita has been so welcoming,” Salter said. Glancing toward a diner she knew, a thin man named “Ricky,” Salter declared: “Ricky, you need more gravy.” She left the dining room and returned with a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy for him.

Thomas exchanged hugs with guests coming or going. “We’re family,” he said. “They need love just like everybody else. If you show respect to them, they show respect to you.”

Café On Vine has been convening providers of meal sites in the Davenport area to discuss unmet needs of the hungry. Members of this Hunger Task Force include Café on Vine, King’s Harvest, McAn­thony’s Window, and Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope, Sullivan said.

The group supported the collaboration of Café on Vine and Christians Who Care Ministry to serve a hot breakfast Monday through Friday at the café, located on the western edge of downtown. Weekends are covered. King’s Harvest in downtown provides brunch on Saturdays and Father Conroy’s Vineyard of Hope on the east end serves breakfast on Sundays. McAnthony’s Window and Annex at St. Anthony Parish in the downtown serves food from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.
A couple of men who’d been to the café for the first breakfast were singing its praises at McAnthony’s Window and Annex a few hours later. “They were just saying that it is really needed for people who are trying to go to work,” said John Cooper, St. Anthony’s Pastoral Associate and Business Manager. “Someone who is trying to go to work can’t come here at 9 o’clock. … And without nourishment, you’re not going to do very well,” he said.
McAnthony’s Window and Annex served 42 people the day that Café on Vine served its first breakfast. “It makes sense. You can see where the holes are at, where you can best utilize resources,” Cooper added.
As word spreads, Sullivan anticipates more hungry guests. “We’ll watch the numbers daily.” Meanwhile, Café on Vine will continue serving lunch Mondays through Saturdays and dinner on Sunday evenings, 365 days a year. The café doesn’t track individuals in order to respect their dignity and privacy. The new partnership will maintain a non-denominational approach with its service, Sullivan said. “We serve all without questions.”

Closing a meal gap

Adding breakfast five days a week at Café on Vine requires additional volunteers and staff as well as food. Café on Vine relies on its partnership with River Bend Foodbank to keep costs affordable and to continue to provide a steady supply of nutritious food. “The community also provides plentiful donations and we’re always grateful for that,” said Waunita Sullivan, Café on Vine’s executive director.

“Café on Vine is a great partner,” said Mike Miller, president and CEO of River Bend Foodbank. “We know Scott County is underserved” with 21,590 people (12.6 percent of the population) struggling with food insecurity. Two other counties in the Davenport Diocese that the foodbank serves also struggle with food insecurity. In Clinton County, the statistic is 6,120 people (12.8 percent of the population) and in Muscatine County, 3,860 people (9 percent of the population), according to map.feedingamerica.org.

River Bend Foodbank released that information in its Map the Meal Gap 2018 report May 21. In total, the foodbank serves 23 counties in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Over the past 12 months, River Bend Foodbank and its partner agencies distributed 13,466,746 meals, an increase of 19 percent from the previous year. The agency’s goal is to close the meal gap by 2025. The meal gap in the 23-county service area is 20,664,500, down 6.5 percent from last year, or 1.4 million meals. “The meal gap has decreased and we are providing more meals to hungry people,” Miller said. “The unmet need is now 7.3 million meals, less than half of what it was three years ago.”

Nonetheless, “food insecurity is still higher than before the Great Recession,” Miller said, “so we have to keep at this until everyone is fed.”

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