Food Distribution Ministry, one of The Bridge of Storm Lake's many programs, simply distributes food to anyone who needs it. The food is handed out in bags and boxes, whatever they can get, packed by around a dozen hardworking volunteers per night. Each bag includes a variety of food types to balance out healthy meals for the week. Around 90 bags and boxes are distributed every Monday.
The atmosphere is a bustling one, with people in the kitchen busy packing food into containers for families. A few young children play amongst the tables while a few parents sit and talk to one another. Everyone can feel the strong sense of community. Volunteers say that the people are grateful for a welcoming, no questions asked environment.
A wide variety of people benefit from these food distributions, from families getting back on their feet, to those who simply cannot make ends meet. One woman said "This is a wonderful program. I am currently unemployed and living on food stamps, the food here helps my family make it through the week."
Many of the volunteers say that they themselves feel an impact from helping out. Sara Leone, a volunteer says that "the Bible says it is better to give than to receive and it's true. To give some time and greet people with a smile, even to just say "hi" makes people happy. That makes me happy." Not only has volunteering given Sara the chance to impact others in need, but the constant interaction with the people and fellow volunteers has helped improve her English as well.
The food ministry began as members of the Bridge came to realize that many families in the area were in danger of going hungry. The food was first distributed right from the kitchen of founders Jay and Anne Dahlhauser. It has grown so large that the United Methodist Church offered the use of its kitchen for food distribution and storage of refrigerated goods in its basement. Much of the food comes from donations of excess goods from distributors in the area - food that would otherwise have gone to waste or been thrown away. These generous donors include Methodist Manor, Buena Vista Regional Medical Center, Sodexo at Buena Vista University, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Storm Lake Bakery, as well as local individuals bringing in extra produce from their gardens. Browns Shoe Fit donates plastic bags for the food to be distributed in.
Miraculously, they always seem to have enough food for everyone. The funding for the Bridge comes entirely from private donations. When asked what they could use more of, volunteers replied that they could always use more canned goods and vegetables.
Donna Musel, Food Ministry Coordinator says "I feel called to do this, this is my chance to do something bigger than myself." Her son Logan helps out as well. "He used to come home from school, look in the fridge and complain that we didn't have any food. Now that's changed and he might say that he doesn't like what we have but you can see that change in him as well."
Musel also works at Buena Vista University and says that the volunteering even benefits students there who hear about the program and decide to come out to help. "The students on campus rarely get to talk with people older than their professors or younger than themselves. Here, they can interact with all age groups and do something positive."
A few years back, Jay and Anne Dahlhauser saw a need in their neighborhood and sought to fill that need. The Bridge began as an after-school program with volunteers from Buena Vista University. They had contacted Donna Musel to ask for some students to volunteer and help out. Within moments of being asked for student volunteers, she was approached by BV students looking for a cause to volunteer and contribute to. They believe God has been providing since the beginning.
The Bridge has grown into something much larger since then. The Bridge is not a church but they work to connect people with churches in Storm Lake and they work together with many of the churches on different projects. Aside from the food distributions, the Bridge has a variety of other programs and activities. Programs like the youth ministry, the HopeRISE program, or neighborhood ministries.
The youth mInistry of the Bridge includes Bridge Kids which is an after-school program set up for the children around the neighborhood centers. Learning Time for Kids is an educational program set up for children alongside the adult education classes to "promote early literacy, family education, and the ability for parents to have their children cared for while attending their own classes." The Bridge also offers summer camps for all ages, for the girls is Summer Sizzle, Sons of Honor is for the boys, and the Bridge partners with the local churches to attend their vacation bible schools in the summer.
HopeRISE program began in 2011 to support an encourage people by using mentors, education, and discipleship. Adult education classes started with classes around the Dahlhauser kitchen table with women from Africa who lived in the neighborhood and were learning to read and write. It has since branched out into classes on english, math, citizenship, and computers from Monday through Thursday mornings. St. John's Lutheran Church offered to host the classes.
The neighborhood ministries are based around the concept that the best work can be done directly in the neighborhoods and connecting with people daily. Currently, there are two neighborhood centers, Seneca Center which is the home of the Dahlhauser family and Park Center which was founded in 2012 and is home to the Jimenez Family. These are considered places of help an trust to help out those in need in the neighborhood. The Bridge is eager to progress with additional centers throughout Storm Lake in the future.
Jay Dahlhauser says "we love to share Christ and God's love. It is just amazing seeing how many volunteers we've had and to see how serving has effected and changed the people."