The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

January 8, 2012

Feeding a dream

Fishes and Loaves Food Pantry distributes food and serves hot meals to those who need them

Located behind the Family Worship Center on Pinewood Drive, the Beckley Dream Center is an expansive, 22,000-square-foot facility that feeds and clothes thousands of needy individuals each year.

Founded 17 years ago by Marsha Smith and Shelby Warden, Fishes and Loaves Food Pantry within the Beckley Dream Center, had a modest start as a way for single adults from Family Worship Center to serve the community.

“We just saw it as a need in the community and it just grew and grew,” said Smith.

Today the nonprofit Dream Center facility holds a huge food warehouse, a baby pantry, a clothes room, a computer room, a kitchen and dining area to serve hot meals.

Smith and Warden agreed that sometimes the amount of work they do can be overwhelming, but “you just do it.”

“Our lives are planned around the third Saturday of the month. I’m here every day and Marsha is here in the evenings and on the weekends. It is just our lives, what we’re here to do,” Warden said.

Last year Fishes and Loaves served 6,046 families — 14,051 individuals — through food distribution.

“We do about 550 boxes a month and keep boxes made up for emergencies. Often the Department of Health and Human Resources and Child Protection Services will send people in on an emergency basis for clothing and food,” Warden explained.

Each third Saturday they serve a hot breakfast, often serving around 700 meals a month and last year a total of 25,037 pieces of clothing went to those in need.

A total of 75 volunteers help run the facility, many of them serving the hot meals.

“We like to be able to actually serve the meals on those days instead of having a cafeteria line. It is just nicer and something we can do for those in need,” Warden said.

The Dream Center also provides a hot meal around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The baby pantry serves mothers of babies 0 to 3, and each year a special fundraiser, Love the Little Ones, keeps the room stocked with baby products, clothes and toys.

In addition, more than 300 kids were given presents for Christmas, said Warden.

And around the same number were given new shoes, backpacks, haircuts and school supplies in August, reported Smith.

While some individuals who are assisted through Beckley Dream Center have been referred through other agencies, many hear about the facility by word of mouth and are approved based on income, Warden said.

The Dream Center mainly serves Fayette, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming counties, but they have also served individuals from Monroe and Greenbrier counties.

“We are also involved in disaster relief. We have a mobile kitchen that we take out locally and nationally. During the floods in Mingo County, we prepared and served hot meals daily. We also went to areas affected by hurricanes in Alabama and Texas where we prepared and served around 2,000 meals a day,” said Smith.

The Beckley Dream Center and Fishes and Loaves are funded through donations, grants and fundraising.

Each year volunteers work hard selling fruit, pecans and carnival food at the Friends of Coal Auto Fair to raise money.

“We try to help ourselves along the way with fundraising; we don’t just sit here and wait for funding,” said Warden.

“We might apply for 15 grants and only get two of them, you never know,” added Smith.

Additional funding comes through the Family Worship Center and Sophia Church of God, who collect an offering for the Dream Center each month, as well as Beckley Area Foundation, United Way and other grants.

This year the Beckley Dream Center will receive a grant through Food Lion to help stock the food pantry.

For more information or to volunteer, call 304-252-3402 or e-mail fishesloaves6335 @cs.com.

If you would like to make a tax deductible donation, please make checks to Fishes and Loaves or Beckley Dream Center.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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