Homeless assistance program serves 5,000th breakfast

SHALOM volunteers provide meals three days a week at a downtown church.

MIDDLETOWN — Two years after starting a free meal program, volunteers from a local homeless organization served their 5,000th meal this week.

Serving Homeless Alternative Housing Of Middletown (SHALOM) stopped operating its winter church-based homeless shelter program at the outset of COVID-19, said Bill Fugate, volunteer coordinator. He said it was impossible to safely serve the homeless due to the dangers of the virus.

So SHALOM volunteers started serving breakfast three days a week from a donated food trailer in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church, 120 S. Broad St., SHALOM’s home office.

The meals consist of hot breakfast sandwiches, fruits, desserts, water and coffee and are served from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

For many of those served by SHALOM, Fugate said it’s their only hot meal of the day. He said other downtown organizations provide food for the homeless, but typically the food is not prepared and the homeless don’t have the means to cook the food.

The church is the ideal location to serve the homeless because it’s placed near downtown and the Great Miami River, site of and some homeless camps, according to Fugate.

He said when the program that is fully funded by donations began it served about 20 meals a day. Now, he said, they’re averaging about 40 meals a day. He said there are “regulars” who receive food, but there are “new faces” every week.

The increased need for services can be traced to the economy, the lack of affordable housing and mental illness and physical disabilities that reduce job opportunities.

“There is no single answer,” he said when asked about eliminating homelessness. “There will always be poor and homeless. Scripture says that.”

Fugate said the plan is to continue serving free meals since the need continues to grow. He said SHALOM is still seeking volunteers. For more information, call the SHALOM office at 513-423-7821.

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