First Palatka and Bread of Life of Palatka
First Presbyterian Church of Palatka is a vital church partner with the Bread of Life Palatka organization as well as numerous other programs and partnerships which serve the Palatka community.
Sherry Mills, a Deacon with First Palatka, shared at the spring presbytery meeting that along with their commitment to Bread of Life, the church lives out their Matthew 25 ministry in a variety of other ways, including:
- initiating and supporting a Young Life group in Palatka
- participating with Kairo’s Prison ministry
- hosting AA meetings three times a week
- educating the community about environmental issues, and
- offering meeting space for a small group of Unitarian’s who had been sitting by the river to worship.
The Bread of Life began in 1989 as an effort of downtown Palatka churches to eliminate the difficulties for families and individuals seeking food. Initially this joint effort included First Presbyterian Church of Palatka, First Baptist Church of Palatka, St. James United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and St. Monica’s Catholic Church.
For many years, the original Bread of Life building / ministry was the only organized means in Palatka to serve the homeless and food insecure people, which is estimated to be 1 in 5 individuals (the national average is 1 in 8 persons).
In August 2019, the original location was closed for renovations, and while there were some reservations, FPC Pastor Cliff Lyda (also a BOL Board member) graciously welcomed Bread of Life to use Westminster Hall at First Presbyterian Church for daily serving of meals. The church was a few blocks away from the original location. While the fellowship hall supported a sit-down opportunity to have their daily meal, COVID altered their ability to serve in this capacity. Per CDC guidelines, they were able to continue serving to-go meals only. The volunteers served approximately 250-300 meals per week with nutritional snacks to sustain them over the weekend.
In May 2021, the renovations of the original building had been completed and they re-opened, still serving meals Monday through Friday, 11:30-12:30. In May 2022, the Bread of Life served approximately 475-500 meals weekly. They are seeing more “first time” individuals and families who are choosing between food and fuel. While donations still come in, they are working hard to be good stewards of food supplies and shop wisely to supplement donations.
Bread of Life’s approach to strengthening the Palatka community allows area churches, groups, individuals and organizations to sponsor a meal day and to bring prepared food for that day. They may also choose to make a financial donation with the kitchen team preparing a meal in their honor. It has proven to be a successful way to keep the community engaged and addressing a growing social issue. It is a meaningful experience for those who volunteer and offers opportunity to share faith with those who come each day. A review of the Bread of Life’s Facebook page showed a wide variety of businesses, schools, churches, and other community members participating in this way including an elderly couple who drops off a pot of vegetable soup every Friday, their way of offering what they can to support the feeding of those in need.
Theresa Odom, a retired law enforcement officer, has been the kitchen manager since 2019. She knows just about every other role in the day to day management of Bread of Life and finds her volunteer work very rewarding. She has developed relationships with volunteers and recipients over the years, and because of her background in law enforcement, she is aware of the social and mental needs of the clients. Meal blessings are offered each day, and she recognized that many of the clients have begun to offer prayers and thanksgivings, which is a big step forward from the early days when they were doing good if they were silent for the brief moment of prayer. She knows that God is working!
Recognizing that homeless and food insecure families have other needs, Bread of Life works with incorporated agencies to provide many other services including immunizations, diabetes screening and blood pressure monitoring. They partner with groups to provide personal hygiene kits and haircuts provided by local stylists. Veteran’s service organizations offer services and socialization to vets who come for lunch, and a local re-entry program offers services to those being released from incarceration. Putnam County Medical Mission provides much needed referrals for medical services, and the Palatka Christian Service Center provides assistance with bus passes, obtaining proper identification and some gas assistance/emergency housing.
During cold weather incidents or inclement weather, the Bread of Life provides warm clothing, gloves, hats, portable food in backpacks to those identified as truly homeless. During extremely cold days in 2021, First Palatka’s fellowship hall opened as a shelter to those who needed a warm and safe space. The community helped support this effort with cots, blankets, warm clothing, food, and volunteer time. Thanks to a grant that the Bread of Life ministry received, the fellowship hall of First Palatka is currently being renovated and will soon be able to provide a place where the homeless can take a shower and wash their clothes. It will also be used as an emergency shelter during cold weather or hurricane events. On Fridays the church also offers social services and when stylists are available, they provide haircuts.
Pennies count! We are thrilled to have received a beautiful donation from the students at St Johns Christian School today! The boys and girls had a competition to bring in their pennies and to make a donation locally! They tell us that the Girls won!! We cannot thank you all enough for the $437.00 that will go directly to feed those who are homeless and/or hungry.From a recent Facebook post
Bread of Life accept donations of goods, such as bottled water, canned goods, pop-top foods that are portable, personal hygiene items, reusable grocery bags, and insect repellent. As a 501 c3 organization, they are blessed to receive financial donations as we are. Donations may be dropped off at 320 N. 5th Street, Palatka or mailed to P.O. Box 1183, Palatka, Florida 32178. You may find us on Facebook (search for Bread of Life, Palatka, Florida and you’ll see the group) for up to date information or contact them at 386-328-0213 to find out how you can help with this vital mission.
We had a beautiful ending to our week at the Bread of Life! Thank you to Peniel Baptist Academy and especially to those amazing group of Seniors who delivered a bounty of canned goods for the Bread of Life kitchen! …Thank you for blessing us in this way!From a recent Facebook post
Kim Daley, member of First Palatka and Bread of Life board member, “believes that every community can benefit by caring for those who are often considered ‘invisible.’ This remains an amazing opportunity that FPC and many local churches have embraced as a true community mission!”
Thanks to Kim Daley, Sherry Mills, and Rev. Cliff Lyda