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Lunch Break

Volunteers step up to feed homeless after temporary closing of Midtown mission.

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On a recent Thursday afternoon, volunteer Kathleen Kruczek stands on the back steps of Manna House, yelling names of the homeless people gathered on the patio.

"Jerome! Lamar! Freddie A.! Freddie O.!" she screams.

As each name is called, people raise their hands and another volunteer hands them a plastic grocery sack containing a turkey sandwich and two bananas. Manna House, a hospitality hub on Jefferson, isn't typically in the food business. It's usually a place where people experiencing homelessness can get a shower, a cup of coffee, and clean laundry.

But after St. Vincent de Paul Food Mission on Cleveland, better known as "the radio station" since it was housed in the old headquarters for WGSF AM, closed this summer, volunteers stepped up to make sack lunches and hand them out five days a week at Manna House.

"On the first or second day after they closed, our guests started telling us that the soup kitchen at the radio station was closed," said Pete Gathje, a minister at Manna House. "So we said we'd start offering a sack lunch at Manna House every Monday through Friday."

"We started out serving 100 people, and now we're serving 200 or more," said Lisa Anderson, a volunteer with the winter emergency homeless shelter organization Room at the Inn, who helped organize the Manna House lunches.

The St. Vincent de Paul Food Mission served soup and sack lunches out of the Cleveland Street location 365 days a year for 25 years. But it closed in June, because the building was no longer structurally sound.

"There were some questionable foundation issues. It's an old building, so in order to not endanger our guests or volunteers, we had to vacate the premises," said Gloria Hyden, president of St. Vincent de Paul's Memphis District Council.

The charity was already planning a move when it closed. They purchased a building at 1306 Monroe, the old Madison Heights Methodist Church, in February 2012. Renovations have been under way at that location ever since. Hyden expects the new space to be open and ready to resume operations on September 7th.

The new food mission will be able to seat 62 people at a time, and others will wait in the chapel until a space opens up for them to sit and eat. The old radio station space could only seat up to 25 people, so many guests got their lunch to go.

"No one will have to wait outside at the new place, and everyone will get to sit down and have their lunch. The agreement with the city is no one can leave with food [from the new location]," Hyden said. "It's the Medical District, and they want to keep everything looking good."

Until the new mission opens, volunteers will continue to hand out lunches at Manna House. Anderson said they have enough volunteers, but they could use monetary donations to purchase bread, turkey, and bananas.

Donations may be mailed to Manna House at 53 N. Auburndale, Memphis TN 38104.

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