“The first time Randy came, he saw the long line of people and became involved and never looked back. Even when his restaurants opened back up, he still helped us prepare hot meals.” –Darcy Gunter
For most people, what was once a normal routine has been pushed aside as the coronavirus impacts jobs, schools, and daily interactions.
During that disruption, Living Bridges Ministry continues to serve families in need throughout Valdosta, Lowndes County.
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Living Bridges Ministry established a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch program. Providing meals twice a week on Monday and Wednesday, a team of volunteers served 500 to 700 people each day.
“The first couple weeks, we were giving out sandwiches to about 100 people,” says Darcy Gunter, co-founder of Living Bridges Ministry. “I knew the numbers would grow, and I wanted to provide a hot meal—at least part of the time.”
As predicted, the numbers climbed quickly, and Gunter knew she needed assistance.
“I didn’t have a kitchen big enough, and the numbers were starting to reach 300 each day,” she says.
It was a perfect connection. Gunter was trying to feed hundreds of people, and DeCoudres had the resources and time available.
With the state’s mandated restrictions on eating establishments, DeCoudres had one restaurant temporarily closed and two offering only curbside service.
“I was providing daily family meals for my staff while they couldn’t work,” says DeCoudres. “But I was also looking for other ways to give back to the community.
With about 90 employees furloughed, DeCoudres wanted to make sure their families had food. When local businesses found out about the family dinners, they offered to sponsor a meal.
“Chip O’Steen, with O’Steen Subaru, asked if he could sponsor a meal,” DeCoudres says. “I gave him a shout-out on social media, and the next thing I know, we had over 60 people and businesses wanting to sponsor family meals.”
From the overwhelming responses, DeCoudres was able to extend the meals to employees at other restaurants.
“The sponsorships were generating some money, and I knew I wanted to do more to help,” he says. “About that same time, I talked to Dane Boruff, who had been a chef at The Salty Snapper, and he told me about Living Bridges Ministry and how Darcy was working around the clock feeding over 300 people.”
After grilling hamburgers for one of the lunches, DeCoudres started providing Living Bridges Ministry with kitchen space, staff, and food.
“Randy cooked the lunches and provided 90 percent of the food,” says Gunter. “He also helped us get a lot of supplies we needed like gloves and hand sanitizers.”
Joining DeCoudres, other local restaurants and businesses donated food, including Big Nick’s, Kelsey’s Bake Away, Jimmy Johns, Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A North Valdosta, Pizza Hut, and Pepsi-Cola Bottling.
“The first time Randy came, he saw the long line of people and became involved and never looked back,” says Gunter. “Even when his restaurants opened back up, he still helped us prepare hot meals.”
From March through August, Living Bridges Ministry served more than 64,000 sack meals. In September, they transitioned from the pickup lunches to bags of groceries.
“We are moving to a hand-up and not a hand-out approach,” says Gunter. “Each week, people can come get two bags of grocery items, including some breakfast food. If they want additional groceries for that week, they will need to either volunteer, pay a small portion, or take a class to improve their lives in some manner.”