By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Hugs, handshakes and cheerful greetings were served up with pancakes, waffles, bacon and eggs for breakfast on June 28 at Café on Vine, which provides free nutritious meals 365 days a year to people in need.
“Good morning! What would you like?” volunteer Sandy Cosier asked a guest who approached the serving counter with his empty tray. “Pancakes please,” the guest responded. “Blueberry or plain?” She greeted each of the guests in line with the same enthusiasm as they waited their turn to be served.
Guests and volunteers bantered back and forth in the serving line and at the tables in the cozy café that seats 52 people. “It’s nice to fellowship for a brief minute,” says Victor as he chatted with another diner, Tim, near the dessert bar in the café. Victor was eating a small bowl of cherry dessert with whipped topping, lovingly prepared by café volunteer, Maria Ellis.
Café on Vine, which already serves lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner on Sunday, added breakfast to its schedule a year ago, responding to a need that arose when Timothy’s House of Hope in Davenport closed. Christians Who Care, a group of volunteers who served breakfast at Timothy’s, wanted to continue that ministry but needed a place to house it.
A group of organizations that serve people in need — including Café on Vine, McAnthony Window, King’s Harvest, Humility Homes and Services in Davenport — brainstormed a solution. They formed the Hunger, Housing, Health Task Force, which still meets regularly to address unmet needs of people in the community living on the margins, struggling to make ends meet.
McAnthony Window, a ministry of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, serves a late-morning meal from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays. The ministry ultimately decided to stick with the 9-11 a.m. meal rather than offer an earlier breakfast, said John Cooper, the parish’s pastoral associate and business manager. If most of the guests would be coming from shelters in closer proximity to Café on Vine, it made sense to offer breakfast there.
Waunita Sullivan, executive director of Café on Vine, conducted an informal survey of Café on Vine guests and distributed surveys to the other organizations to determine the demand for breakfast and the results were resounding. “Breakfast came out on top, and then snacks,” she said.
With the blessings of Café on Vine’s Board of Directors, some adjustments to the staff of 3.6 full-time equivalent employees, and more volunteers, the café opened for breakfast on May 21, 2018. Christians Who Care provides most of the food and serves it at Café on Vine.
“They’ve been doing a great job with the food,” Sullivan said. “We help out in terms of milk and butter (and cleaning/sanitation supplies). It’s really truly been a partnership. I think that’s how you move forward — only by collaborating.”
Before breakfast on June 28, staff and volunteers gathered as usual in a circle to pray before serving the meal to their guests, some of whom were waiting in the dining room, drinking coffee and chatting. One of the volunteers asked the group to pray for another volunteer who would have been present but was undergoing surgery. Then the waiting diners said a prayer in the dining room before lining up to get their food at the counter.
On average, Café on Vine serves 80 guests for breakfast and around 135 for lunch. At the start of a month, the number might be closer to 60 or 70 for breakfast and 120 to 130 for lunch. By the end of the month, when people are short on cash, the numbers are higher than average, Sullivan said. About 75 percent of the diners are from Scott County, about 20 percent are from Rock Island County, Ill., and another 5 percent “are just passing through,” Sullivan said.
People waited patiently in line June 28; some mingled with one another after setting their trays on a table. But most left as soon as they finished eating to make room for others.
Dane’s large black backpack sat on the floor, perched against the back wall of the café as he ate his pancakes and eggs. Dane, 35, said he has been eating breakfast and lunch daily at Café on Vine for the six months he’s been homeless. He talks about his dreams for the future – a permanent address so that he can provide that to an employer and to make enough money to keep that home and take a shower whenever he wants.
Two weeks earlier, Café on Vine celebrated a volunteer appreciation lunch provided and served by Ganzo’s Mexican Restaurant in Davenport. The event would have been held outside except for the rain. Volunteers and guests didn’t seem to mind the crowded atmosphere and listened attentively as Sullivan provided statistics about how much the addition of breakfast means to the people served and the greater community.
“It’s surprising how many people need help, but they do,” said Jeff Cook, current chair of Café on Vine’s Board of Directors. He volunteers with a group of friends on the first and third Thursdays to help serve breakfast and do some prep for lunch. “You get to know people,” he added. “I find Willo (Salter) and other volunteers as inspiring as anything.”
Salter, a volunteer with Christians Who Care, helps serve breakfast on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. She also prepares some of the dishes, including chorizo eggs for Thursday breakfast. She calls the people she serves “my other family. … I miss them when they stop coming. I worry about when they’re not around. They touch my heart.”
Serving breakfast at Café on Vine hasn’t impacted McAnthony Window. A few people eat at both places, but otherwise there’s little overlap, Cooper said.
For Sullivan, everything came together “as it does when you try to do things the right way and for the good of your population. I think the Lord intervenes somehow for people to come together. He blessed us with a great partnership.”