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City on Fire: Birth of Loaves and Fishes

Loaves and Fishes, our hot meal program, was founded in 1968, which means this year is its 50th anniversary. Midway through the celebration of this anniversary year, L&F board chair Edward Grandi offered the following meditation on the program's earliest days. Offered initially at a fundraising event, he’s happy now to share it with a wider audience.

It was the spring of 1968. Things were never good but they were stable. People in Columbia Heights got what they needed even if it cost a little more and wasn’t quite as good. None were too happy.

Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to help sanitation workers organize after the deaths of Echo Cole and Robert Walker, two trashmen who were swallowed by the trash truck they worked on while the driver watched helplessly.

In an instant on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, fingers pointing at a window across the way, the hero of civil rights, equal justice, and ending the war in Vietnam lay dead. Martin had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land, but like Moses, he knew he would never be allowed to enter.

In Washington unhappiness became anger, anger became rage, rage became a city on fire. Fourteenth Street north from downtown, along with Seventh Street and H Street Northeast, was in flames.

St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church

Fire destroyed indiscriminately, looters took anything and everything they could carry. In the smoking ruble nothing was left. Like survivors in a war-torn city, those who remained searched for food and drink.

An Episcopal church a block from the damage opened its doors to those in need. Friends heard that the need was great, and scores of cars with suburban license plates began arriving with shopping bags of groceries. Over time free groceries evolved into the Loaves and Fishes program that serves hot meals on the weekends and federal holidays for all comers!

From the agony and ashes rose a ministry that responded to Christ’s mandate in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25: Feed the hungry! Now with fifty years of experience, strengthened by God early and late, this ministry of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church looks forward to the next half-century of service to the homeless and hungry.

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