Marsha and Bruce Arnold get up so early every Sunday morning, you would think it is their job to wake up the birds.
It doesn’t matter what time of year or how severe the weather. Before the sun rises, they are on their way to Trinity United Methodist Church in downtown Lima. There they will put things in motion for a team of volunteers. The assignment: making breakfast for 120 to 250 people, never knowing exactly how many are going to show up, only that they’ll be hungry and grateful.
“Anyone who visits will be fed,” Bruce said.
That means cracking more than 25 dozen eggs, cooking a mountain of sausage and bacon, flipping 200 or so pancakes and topping it off with freshly cut fruit and pastries donated by Panera.
The Arnolds have been following this routine for 2½ decades. Sadly, the journey ended quietly on Sunday. Now that they’re in their early 70s and late 60s, the Arnolds are stepping aside, leaving the ministry in the capable hands of others. This week they’ll be moving to Indianapolis to be near their daughter and son-in-law and two grandchildren.
The people they’ve helped come from the missions, shelters and hotels within a one-mile radius of downtown.
“It’s not just homeless, but people living on the edge,” said the Rev. Davis Harris, pastor of Trinity United Methodist. He estimates Lima has 500 men, women and children of all ages falling into that group.
How it started
The community breakfast owes its beginning to a powerful force — the smell of bacon.
Back in the early 1990s, church members decided to have a monthly fellowship breakfast. “People would attend services and then leave. No one talked or socialized with each other. We thought a monthly breakfast would be a good way to get to know each other,” said Harris.
Instead, they got to know another side of life in Lima that few knew existed.
The very first breakfast saw a person living in the YMCA annex walk past the church. Smelling the bacon cooking inside, he decided to go inside the church to check it out. When he walked into the church dining area, the Arnold’s daughter asked Bruce what she should do. Bruce had a two-word answer, “feed him.”
The next month’s fellowship breakfast saw the man showing up again, this time with about five of his friends. Each month more and more people with lesser means started showing up.
“We had no idea of the need. It just kind of happened,” said Bruce.
Harris sees it philosophically.
“It’s saying yes to whatever God drops in your lap. You can say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and the Arnolds said ‘yes’.”
On March 23, 2008, the congregations of Trinity United Methodist Church and Grace United Methodist Church merged in Lima, creating the “new” Trinity United Methodist Church. One of the things Grace United Methodist insisted upon during the merger was the breakfast be held every Sunday for those in need.
Nearby churches like the Second Baptist and German Methodist also volunteered their help as well as pharmacy students from Ohio Northern University.
A typical Sunday
One man arrives as early as 6 o’clock in the morning, standing on the sidewalk and yelling for Harris, who also is in early preparing for Sunday’s worship. Harris let’s the man inside, who volunteers to do odd jobs as he waits for breakfast. Others will form a line outside around 7 o’clock. They’ll socialize once inside, and many will help set up the tables and chairs for the breakfast.
“Sometimes it can be hard to always be on the receiving end. We see people at the breakfast who want to be givers,” said Harris.
Mary Albano sits at one table with her friends, Miranda and Dan. They talk about the brisk morning walk to the breakfast, the rain that’s expected to drench the area this week, and “possibly snow.”
At 8 a.m, Harris holds a church service. His message is “hope.” He wishes several in the crowd a happy birthday, then talks — not preaches — that God hasn’t left them alone. Jaws are clenched, and tears form in the eyes of many as they listen.
When Harris asks if there are any messages to be shared, Mary Albano approaches the altar.
“There are ways to get help from alcohol abuse and drug addictions,” she tells the group, sobbing with each words. “I lost two friends this week. I’ll never get to see them again. I miss them; they were too young to die. Please don’t let that happen to you.”
The church service is over in 20 minutes. It’s time to eat. Being the first Sunday of the month, this is a special breakfast. Everyone is handed a small card with a menu and can place their order. Volunteers will then serve the breakfast.
It is all about respect, Marsha Arnold explains.
“Everyone wants to be treated with dignity. They may not tell you how much they appreciate that, but you see it in their faces, in their eyes,’’ she said.
Marsha and many of the volunteers make it a point each week to talk with Trinity’s special guests.
“Job loss, health problems, addictions, evictions or divorce … they’ve experienced it. They all appreciate a kind word,” she said.
By chance, Bruce Arnold crossed paths a month ago with the man who entered the church some 20 years ago after smelling the bacon cooking inside.
“I talked with him about it. He did not remember that he did that. He did say he remembered living a the Y annex and was down on his luck. Now he has own place.”
And with that the Arnolds smiled.
They will be missed.
ROSES AND THORNS: A pro baseball player’s son steps into the rose garden.
Rose: To Carlos Baerga Jr., son of the former Cleveland Indians’ second baseman, who is playing for the University of Northwestern Ohio baseball team.
Rose: To Bobbie Nevarez, who will represent Jefferson Award winners in Washington, D.C. She has spent her life helping others after being released from prison in 1997, where she served time for embezzlement.
Thorn: The last seven days see police investigating five deaths.
PARTING SHOT: Regular naps prevent old age, especially if you take them while driving.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.