- Austen Hufford/Daily
By Austen Hufford, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 24, 2013
The sun isn’t up yet, but already the large multipurpose room has lots of tired-looking people eating breakfast, talking and beginning their days. The room is filled with about 100 patrons, mostly sitting around circular tables on fold-up white chairs. A piano sits on one wall, and the edge of a curtained stage has been co-opted into a lean-and-eat area.
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Hot oatmeal, grits and pastries are served buffet-style, right from the kitchen. A table with coffee, spreads and cereal is popular, and a toast-and-butter station is also set up.
Diners drink coffee from different styles of mugs, break open hard-boiled eggs and munch on the food. Some tables are loud with conversation about last night's game, someone retelling a crazy story, complaining about Michigan’s too-cold weather, or even where to find a job. Others are silent with people just eating or staring into the distance. Some are dressed nice and have smartphones and iPods; others look shabby and have multiple layers of ragged clothes.
The breakfast, in some ways, is completely normal, and the same scene could easily be seen at West Quad or in a Kerrytown co-op. Old friends reconnect, and new table groups form.
However, this is not your typical breakfast: It’s the free breakfast program at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, which is a nonprofit organization that serves disadvantaged individuals a morning meal seven days a week.
Since 1982, the breakfast program has been divvying out free breakfast to all who come. Volunteers and patrons can’t remember a single day when breakfast wasn’t available. A few years ago, an outage left much of southeastern Michigan without power. All was not lost for the breakfast streak: Candles were placed on tabletops, and breakfast was still provided. When St. Andrew’s temporarily closes for renovations or new wiring, the program moves to a nearby Methodist church, said program director Shannon Chase.
Between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. every day of the week, everyone is welcome to come, eat breakfast and relax for the hour. Located across the street from Community High School, the large, gothic Episcopal Church complete with a tall tower has white text painted on a window giving the hours for the breakfast program.
The program was started by members of the St. Andrew’s congregation and quickly expanded from a weekend program to a daily event. In recent years, the program has become its own separate nonprofit organization and now rents its space from the church. Many church members are still actively involved in the organization, but plenty of volunteers are not affiliated with the church.
Most volunteers are retirees or University students, but some work full time. Others are students from a nearby high school. Chase said she helps manage hundreds of volunteers throughout the year with varying levels of commitment.
In 31 years, the program has deliberately remained consistent. The organization wants to accomplish its one job and do it right.
“I think it’s easy to spread ourselves too thin,” Chase said. “So we just focus on breakfast every day of the week, every week of the year.”
People simply walk in. No registration is required, nor is proof of income of any kind. Some come for a single meal or just a few weeks’ worth, while others have been eating here daily for years. For many diners, the simplicity is a great benefit of the program. It allows for them to come and leave when needed — no questions asked.
Azula is a 20-year-old who said he is struggling financially and comes to the program for both a good breakfast and to interact with the people. At the breakfast program, patrons commonly know each other by only their first names.
“A lot of people forget how to ration their money and use it for the right things, and that’s why this is a big support to them in this community,” Azula said.