VIP Interview: The Lord's Diner

By MeLinda Schnyder  

 Earlier this year, The Lord’s Diner served its 3 millionth guest since opening downtown in 2002. The program, a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, started with a focus on feeding the city’s homeless and today serves anyone who needs a hot, nutritious meal.
    More than half of the 3,000 daily meals served are for families that include children. Those who need the meals most don’t always have the means to travel to the North Broadway dining facility so The Lord’s Diner has opened locations across the city. There is a second dining hall on South Hillside as well as mobile feeding trucks in the northwest, northeast and southeast parts of town. The mobile trucks have helped reach people turned off by the stigma of going to a food kitchen or those preferring to take meals home to other family members. Each person who receives food from a truck can take up to two meals.
    The northeast mobile operation began serving just last month from the Atwater Neighborhood Resource Center, which is in a ZIP code that is among the 10 poorest in the nation. The Lord’s Diner is in the process of opening its first satellite location in Pittsburg, Kansas, which is in a county with the highest poverty rate in the state.
    Jan Haberly managed and owned restaurants with her husband and was an active volunteer with The Lord’s Diner before taking a job in 2005 to coordinate the thousands of volunteers who make it possible to serve meals seven days a week, 365 days a year. She became executive director five years ago and said she feels blessed that donors and volunteers representing many faiths and denominations support the mission of The Lord’s Diner.

VIP: How did The Lord’s Diner start? 
JH: Bishop Eugene Gerber, the bishop of Wichita in 2002, was set to retire and he worried about what would happen to all of the homeless he fed from his kitchen on a regular basis. He formed a committee of civic and church leaders to research what options there were. Many came together with their generosity and The Lord’s Diner was founded. We offer a “congregate feeding” program, a bit more than a soup kitchen in that we serve a full meal; a salad or fruit, entrée, starch, vegetable, bread and dessert.

VIP: How is The Lord’s Diner funded? 
JH: We have two fundraisers each year: a mail appeal and a dinner sponsored by a local church. Other support comes from the community at large, memorials, honorariums and grants.  

VIP: How has the The Lord’s Diner grown in the past 14 years?
JH: We originally were more of a homeless outreach but over the years we have added the mentally and physically disabled on fixed incomes and the underemployed and unemployed, including many families with children. As we grew from a predominately homeless outreach we were seeing more and more families. We knew transportation to our one location was a challenge for many in our community experiencing hunger. We worked with The Kansas Food Bank to identify areas of need.

VIP: How many meals do you serve?  
JH: Daily we averaged 2,000 before bringing on our new mobile feeding truck at the end of October, which we project will take us to 3,000 meals a day. We’ve served 3,330,200 meals since opening in 2002.

VIP: Who makes this happen?  
JH: We now have 12 total staff to cover our 365-day-a-year operation serving five locations. We utilize the service of 70 volunteers a day to help prepare and serve the meals along with other duties such as office and laundry.

VIP: How can we support The Lord’s Diner?  
JH: Funding is always needed and we welcome new volunteers. Give Sheryl a call at (316) 266-4966 to receive more information on how to volunteer or visit catholicdioceseofwichita.org.