By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- A small group of retired Hannibal residents sat at a table, visiting in the Living Way Christian Fellowship church building this week during a Loaves and Fishes feeding session.
At another table were several teens who came in for the meal.
"A lot of this is social. People are not only hungry, people are lonely," Pastor James Bridges said.
The widespread need for food and companionship is why the Loaves and Fishes feeding program is going on this summer. The ministry has been active in Hannibal since the late 1990s but used to close in July and August while host churches held vacation Bible schools and or did maintenance work.
The Rev. Larry Hinds, president of the God's Harvesters and Harvest Outreach, which sponsors the feeding program, said lots of churches have been involved in the feeding program, including Lutheran, United Methodist Church and Episcopal congregations. Now, it is in the Living Way building at 1530 Lyon St. for at least a couple of months.
Hinds said an average of 60 people have been showing up for meals served weekdays starting at 5 p.m. He wants to see even larger crowds.
"We especially want to focus on children," he said. "There's such a need when schools aren't in session. A lot of these kids depend on the free and reduced price meals, and the backpack programs during the weekends."
State Rep. Lindell Shumake, a minister, learned a few years ago that more than 70 percent of the students at some Hannibal schools rely on the free and reduced-price meals for a major part of their nutrition needs. Shumake has been involved in the feeding program for years.
In addition to hot meals and fellowship, God's Harvesters and related groups offer a benevolence ministry that helps distressed families pay utility bills, buy diapers or take care of other needs. Some local stores also pass along packaged food items that can be given out to people in need.
Bridges, 41, said the Living Way Christian Fellowship agreed to host the feeding program to fill a community need.
"God's Harvesters and their work are the story here," Bridges said.
A Hannibal native, Bridges launched the church in the building on Lyon Street that had been home to Karen's Dance Academy and the historic Mennonite Church.
He said the feeding program is open to everybody.
"We're here to meet people's physical needs and their spiritual needs.," Bridges said.