Ben Ronca and Sharon Barker have been making plans to open Cleveland Daily Bread, a kitchen that will offer free weeknight meals to those in need.
“Separately, we both had visions of doing something in this community,” Ronca said. “Now, we’re working together.”
The two have already secured a location and 501(c)3 nonprofit status. On Friday afternoon, the kitchen passed its very first Health Department inspection.
While the exact date for Cleveland Daily Bread’s first meal does not have a definite date, Barker said everything should be up and running within a couple of weeks.
Located at 453 Broad Street S.W., across the corner from Cleveland Fire Department Station 1, the building sits in an area Ronca said is home to many people who are homeless or at least living on very limited incomes.
The goal is to help people who need it get food.
While there are already local organizations that help people by giving them food, both Ronca and Barker said they believed there was still a need for another community kitchen.
Barker said she gained a newfound urgency to help people who do not have adequate access to food when she read in the newspaper how Bradley County’s homeless includes children.
She said there is not currently an organization she knows of that provides a weeknight evening meal. While some organizations provide daytime or weekend meals, there are still children who are hungry when they go to sleep at night.
Ronca, who served as a pastor in Florida for roughly 30 years before moving to the area, said he wants the Cleveland Daily Bread to “complement” what other ministries are doing to help by offering meals at a time they are not currently being offered.
“We hope that if we can work together with the other organizations, there will be no children on the streets and hungry,” Barker said.
They said they hope to be able to serve a meal Monday through Friday at 5:30 each night.
The building, which Ronca owned, has undergone much work to make it ready for a community kitchen. Walls were painted. Floors were cleaned. A kitchen was created with donated appliances. Electrical work in the previously uninhabited building was brought up to code.
Both Ronca and Barker have said the community has been working to make their vision a reality. Numerous volunteers have helped with painting and other projects, and a local electrician donated about $5,000 worth of parts and labor.
While some work remains, most of it is cosmetic. Barker said they hope to have volunteers help them paint the building’s exterior before it opens and install a sign they have already had made.
They have the resources they need to get the kitchen stocked with food and ready to serve meals. However, they said they will also be seeking donations to make sure everything keeps going longterm.
Cleveland Daily Bread has received its nonprofit status through a larger nonprofit group in Florida called Seminary Covenant Community, Barker said. The larger organization has made the Cleveland kitchen one of its projects.
Now they are less worried about getting the facility itself ready, the two concerned residents have been focusing on what they would like the kitchen to become.
Barker said she wants it to be a place that “feels like coming home for dinner,” a place where people can gather for good, friendly conversation. While it will not be “like a church service,” Ronca said they will not hide their Christian beliefs because they feel they can offer hope to those living in hopeless situations.
“A lot of people don’t experience the love of God from other people,” Ronca said.
In addition to one meal a day, they also hope to be able to gather enough nonperishable foods to allow people to take something home with them.
The building has one and a half bathrooms, and Barker said the full bathroom will be reserved for those who need to take showers. Cleveland Daily Bread plans to keep the bathrooms well-stocked with supplies like soap, shampoo and towels.
Barker said she would eventually like to get a washer and dryer so people can shower and not have to put on dirty clothes.
While it will not be a place for people to sleep, it will offer a place for people to come in from the weather outside. On a recent work day, Barker peered out the building’s window to see an April shower had begun pounding the pavement with raindrops.
“This is a bad day for those folks out there without homes,” Barker said, not taking her eyes away from the wet weather. “The sooner we can get it open, the better it will be. I’ve been blessed, and now I’d like to bless someone that’s not.”
The organization’s biggest need right now is for volunteers, the directors said. However, donations are also welcome and can be mailed to 453 Broad Street S.W., Cleveland, TN 37311.
For more information, call 423-715-9193.