A Buoy of Hope for Those in Need

Harrisburg’s Downtown Daily Bread Provides Meals and Second Chances

A hot, nutritious meal, every day of the week served from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. – no cost and no questions asked.

This is the basic mission of Downtown Daily Bread (DDB) in Harrisburg: to provide lunches to the homeless, the needy and the hungry.  A simple act of charity, perhaps, yet the impact on the lives of those who it has helped is extraordinary and far-reaching.

Founded in 1983 as a social outreach of Pine Street Presbyterian Church and located in the Hospitality House of the Boyd Memorial Building, DDB is supported by 19 area churches and synagogues.

Driven by the belief that “all human beings are created equally,” and that “men, women, and children of all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels deserve to have their basic human needs met,” DDB never closes, especially on holidays, or turns away anyone who is hungry. They believe that “all human beings should have access to food, shelter and clothing.”

DDB serves more than 40,000 mid-day meals every year.

Today, DDB Executive Director Elaine Strokoff estimates that 80 to 100 people come for lunch every day.

“On the weekend, we can get up to 150,” says the Camp Hill resident.  “Within the past five years, the number of people has risen.  When I first started here in 1995, we served about 65 to 75 people. But now, 75 would be considered below average.”

She adds, “Everybody is unique, and everybody deserves food. In a country like this, no one should be hungry.”

Originally hired as a volunteer coordinator, Strokoff took over as executive director in 2000.

“I oversee the program, answering to the church,” she explains.  “I also make sure our mission is being met – feeding the hungry, providing services for the homeless.”

Strokoff also leads DDB’s advisory board, oversees a staff of three full-time and three part-time employees, writes grant applications, produces the newsletter and, perhaps most importantly, ceaselessly campaigns for donations and fundraises.

In addition to daily lunches, DDB also offers a program called “Lunch Plus,” which Strokoff was responsible for creating.

Lunch Plus is just that: a meal plus additional free-of-charge services, such as phone access, a mailing address, lockers, clothing for men and women, showers, laundry, transportation and monthly haircuts.

DDB also offers employment counseling and mental health counseling and referrals as well as health care, legal services and a program for veterans in need.

“Most of it is done in-house, but some of it is done in collaboration with other organizations in town,” Strokoff says.

It would be impossible to accomplish all that DDB does on a daily basis with such a small staff. Fortunately, there is a wide network of generous volunteers who fill the gap every day – the majority sent from the 19 churches and synagogues that support DDB.

“The backbone of this organization,” Strokoff says of the volunteers. “…I think all of the volunteers will tell you that they just feel good when they are here. And they are made more aware of what they see in the world, of poverty and all of the ugliness it can bring with it, of how people are struggling in the community. The big thing they get is the value of it and such great reward for themselves by volunteering.”

Last year, DDB opened the Drop-In Center on the third floor of their facilities. Operated Monday through Friday 1 to 4 p.m., it exists as a respite and momentary home of sorts for those in need.

According to DDB’s website, “The Drop-In Center is a place where the homeless can go during afternoons to find a warm, dry, friendly, peaceful, gathering place – rather than remain outdoors in peril and with nothing to do. After eating lunch at DDB, individuals can visit the Drop-In Center to read, sleep or play board games. The center also serves as a place where they can learn computer skills and utilize available resources to apply for jobs, housing and other services. An experienced, caring counselor assists clients with case management and provides a listening ear. A registered nurse and medical social worker provides screening and medical health support.”

“We are seeing between 17 to 35 people every day in the Drop-In Center,” Strokoff details.  “During winter, it’s crucial.”

Strokoff adds, “The basic mission is to provide food daily. Secondary to that, we help people become self-sufficient. We like to prevent people from becoming homeless and help them stay as independent members of society. But knowing that not everyone can do that, we provide services with the hope that it helps them get back on their feet.”

In her 21 years at DDB, she has gained a unique perspective on humanity and what it truly means to help someone in need.

“Every homeless person on the street or person in need has a story,” she says. “Each person is an individual, and I’ve learned over the years here that every person has a background that brought them here – whether it’s generational, emergency or long-term.  Before I worked here, I never knew that.  Before I worked here, if I saw a homeless person on the street, I would have been frightened.  I’ve grown tremendously in terms of what I know about the world from working here – about race, diversity, poverty, addiction and mental health.  It’s all there, and there are so many people who suffer because of it.”

Strokoff explains that it’s not only those who are homeless who need the help DDB offers.

“A great many are homeless, but there are some who are living in poverty and the working poor,” Strokoff explains. “There are also those who just lost a job. They had been secure, but now they are on the streets.  It can be a snowball effect – one thing leading to another, and before you know it, they are on the street.  …There are all kinds of scenarios.  You see women with children, domestic violence, divorce – the whole spectrum of humanity and all that goes with it.  …We have people who work temp jobs in warehouses or loading facilities, wherever, and they don’t make enough to get an apartment because they are temps or making minimum wage.  They sleep here during the day, go somewhere for dinner and then work all night.”

Another tenet inherent in the services provided by DDB are based on the notions of second chances and opportunities to change. Life can be filled with struggle, and for those who are not blessed by fortunate circumstance or who have made choices that resulted in being in need, there are few places to turn for help, understanding or even simple human kindness.  Without a doubt, the world can be cruel, but it is organizations like DDB that are the buoys in – what can seem like to those in need – an insurmountable, drowning sea of those who do not care.

“We have people come who have been in prison, who have been on drugs for a long time,” Strokoff says. “Everyone deserves a second chance, and maybe a third. I believe in second chances. If we turn up our noses at people who had trouble in their lives, we wouldn’t be much help. …We say, ‘This center is faith-based but no one faith.’  To help one person is to help the world.  We do make a difference in the lives of those we service.”

But what about helping those who help?

Strokoff admits that the biggest challenge facing DDB is keeping the funding stream open and rallying the community to support them.

“My challenge is to keep this alive and vital,” she says. “The vision is that we will keep going until there is no need.  I don’t see that happening any time in the near future though.  …If you care about the city and have the means, why wouldn’t you support us?  We want it to be a good city for everyone.”

For more information and to learn how to volunteer or donate to DDB, call (717) 238-4717 or visit downtowndailybread.org. On October 23, DDB will be hosting a fundraiser called the “Inaugural Soup Showdown” held at the Country Club of Harrisburg.