CAMP VERDE - Bread of Life Mission has been feeding the bodies and the souls of the Verde Valley's malnourished since 1994.
As long as most people can recall, Tuesday nights at the Camp Verde Community Center are the meeting point for the ministry to deliver a sermon, serve hot dinners to anyone who is hungry - and to give each person a box of food to help get them through the week.
Despite the Town of Camp Verde's graciousness in making the gym and its companion kitchen available one night each week, Bread of Life's leadership recently verbalized its commitment - and its desire - to find a piece of land so it could build a distribution hub for St. Mary's Food Bank in Phoenix, the charity that donates much of the food Bread of Life uses to feed the community.
"That way they could bring it to one location and everybody could come here to pick up what they need," says Bread of Life Director Duane Burris.
Burris, who has led the program for the past 12 years, visualizes a 12,000-square-foot center, with a dining hall and kitchen to serve as many as 800 people at a time.
Donors are the Mission's lifeline and heartbeat
As long as Bread of Life has had doors to open, it has relied on the charity of others - so it could then give back to the community by providing hot food, groceries - and God's message. Burris says it will take a lot of donations - and a lot of prayer - to answer his prayer to expand the program's offerings.
"Donors have made all of our projects happen the past 22 years," says Phoebe Hach, one of the Bread of Life Mission's Board of Directors.
By donors, Hach means the many people who have offered cash to help keep the Mission afloat. Bread of Life donors also bring food to the mission, and they volunteer their time at the warehouse, as well as cooking and serving meals each Tuesday. They also pack the boxes of food that people take home with them, they wash dishes, and they set up the tables and put them away at the end of the night.
"Donors are our lifeline and our heartbeat," Hach says. "We're blessed - and we're thankful for all that they have done."
Building a dream
About five years ago, Bread of Life tried to put together a strategic plan, which went "on the backburner for a while," Burris says. Recently, Bread of Life received a $25,000 grant. Most of the money was needed for operations, to keep the ministry solvent. Currently, about $2,000 is set aside toward the new distribution center.
For Burris, the desired expansion is not because the program has outgrown the Community Center. It's about wanting to serve more people - and to serve them more frequently.
At first, Burris says he would like to serve lunch Monday through Friday as well as the weekly Tuesday night dinner. Eventually, he says that it "would be great" to serve both lunch and dinner Monday through Friday.
To consummate a project of this magnitude, there are a great many needs, Burris says.
"Our volunteers' expertise, like construction, architecture, engineering, anything that anyone could offer in those areas," Burris says. "And of course, money."
Right now, Bread of Life is raising funds "to take to an architect for a preliminary plan," Burris says. "So we're going to the press, taking it to the Town, trying to get it out to the churches, as many people as possible."
Take it to the board
Phoebe Hach has spoken with Camp Verde Town Manager Russ Martin and Economic Development Director Steve Ayers about the Mission's desire to expand. Says Burris, both Martin and Ayers "are really happy for us and excited. And they want to help."
Later this year, Hach says she plans to present the Mission's plans to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors "in hopes of acquiring" a Community Development Block Grant [CDBG].
Though Bread of Life needs to have money committed toward the first phase of the project before it can qualify for the grant, Hach says that both she and Burris are "really excited" about the possibility of the funding.
"We really hope to get it going," Hach says. "It will be a good thing for Camp Verde and the whole Verde Valley."
Talk - and action
Though Bread of Life is doing more than its share of brainstorming, until it can acquire a piece of land, "it's just talk," Burris says.
For years, Bread of Life has rented a warehouse off Howards Road and SR 260. Burris says he first thought of a distribution center about eight years ago.
"We realized that things would be smoother if everything was in one location," Burris says. "If we had our own facility, we could distribute more times each week, as opposed to relying on the Town and working around their schedule."
Phase I includes land acquisition. Phase II includes building a warehouse, dining hall and commercial kitchen - and serving meals.
Anyone interested in donating or assisting Bread of Life can contact Duane Burris at 928-567-6931 or 928-300-2372. Donations can also be mailed to Bread of Life Mission, P. O. Box 2991 Camp Verde, AZ 86322.