The Loaves and Fishes' mission is very simple - feed the hungry.|
For nearly 25 years, the community kitchen has served hot and nutritious meals to Biloxi's homeless.
But after Katrina severely damaged the operation center at 260 Main St., the faith-influenced organization had to rely on volunteers and donations from private and government sources to jumpstart the mission once again.
"Since the hurricane, we had people who never utilized our services and who were very self-sufficient," said Rita Baldwin, coordinator for Loaves and Fishes. "We need to have a little empathy because in a flash of an eye, any of us can become homeless by no fault of our own and that doesn't make us bad people."
Baldwin walked the homeless path seven years ago after a series of unusual circumstances.
Little did she realize her experience would strengthen her compassion to lead a recovery for the place that used to feed her.
Although the extent of the damage from the storm halted services until January, the months prior were busy with local and out-of-state volunteers hustling to repair the building, which had an 8-foot waterline and a caved-in roof.
"Firemen and policemen from New York helped us clean it out and we just have had wonderful people that have come," she said. "... We have been very blessed by people who have given their time, assisted in serving and given monetary support."
Because the majority of funding came from churches, businesses and individuals that were also victims of Katrina, a fundraising campaign began Friday.
As of now, Baldwin estimates around 130 people visit Loaves and Fishes every day, Monday through Friday, for a hot lunch, snacks and coffee.
Once financial support is steady, plans are to increase services.
"We continue to meet the ever-increasing needs of people coming through our doors," Baldwin said. "Even though our mission is to feed the hungry, it's important to me to try and help people move on and refer them to other programs because people did that for me."