Breakfast at St. Andrew's
by Vickie Elmer
The Breakfast at St. Andrew's has a new leader.
When she volunteered at the breakfast at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Shannon Chase usually served up pastries and muffins on Wednesdays before dashing off to classes in ancient civilizations and biblical studies at the University of Michigan.
Now she's the one recruiting college students and others to volunteer at the free daily breakfast program, having taken over as director in early September.
Chase is stepping into some huge shoes: for twenty-five years the breakfast was run by diminutive St. Andrew's deacon Svea Gray, a volunteer who was well known for her strict-looking smile and her openness.
"The guests miss her. They ask about her," says Chase.
Originally a program of the church, the breakfast became an independent nonprofit organization five years ago, mainly so it could accept donations from businesses and groups that will not give to religious institutions.
"We've gotten bigger. We're more formalized in our organization," says John Riedel, the treasurer, who volunteers on Thursday mornings. The organization, he says, grew from one that "was running out of Svea's apron pockets" to one with a strategic plan and a half-time paid director. In her twenty hours a week, Chase will oversee daily breakfasts for 100 to 150 people, making sure food is ordered and equipment running, and perhaps eventually expand into grant writing or other tasks.
The program's budget has grown from about $80,000 in 2007 to $141,000 this year, Riedel says. About half comes from individual donors, with some local organizations kicking in for the oatmeal, grits, and more each day.
Gray, who also chaired the board, retired in September. "Svea kept the program together in hard times," Reidel says. He expects that the board will choose a new chair at its quarterly meeting in January.
As a deacon, Gray also had a small discretionary fund she could use to help people in need. She might buy a bus ticket for someone going to visit a sick mother, or pay for part of
the tools a carpenter needed for a job. Volunteers say that it's one of the big holes left when she retired. (Gray was traveling in October and not available to be interviewed.)
The breakfast program was established thirty years ago by St. Andrew's church and society committee, in response to the state's last great recession. After putting up handbills around town, it initially served about thirty-five people on weekends. Within six weeks, it had begun serving every day.
Chase, who grew up in Kalamazoo and attends First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, says she was "looking for something meaningful to do" after finishing her degree. Moving into a role so closely associated with another person has been a bit difficult, Chase admits, adding that her more than two years of volunteering also helped her understand the organization's rhythms and routines. (She's currently seeking volunteers who can help on Thursdays and some weekends.)
Though there have been calls in the past for the Breakfast to add more services, "we can't be all things to all people," says Chase. She and Riedel agree the program will stick to its mission: serving breakfast to anyone who wants it every day of the year. "Everybody's entitled to breakfast," Riedel says. "Come have oatmeal, even if you're making $100,000."
[Originally published in November, 2012.]