Let Fred Domke know that you’re a fellow United Methodist when you ask him how Bridge Bread came about, and he might share with you what he calls the “slightly mystical” version of the story.
“It came to me one night in a dream,” he said.
That dream was primed with a lot of conscious-level thinking, though. Domke is a member of Lafayette Park UMC, and was taking part in a book study on being an externally focused church. Lafayette Park is already known as a church that is engaged in its community and in mission, but the people of the church were trying to think creatively about how they could do more than offer food, social services and employment counseling.
One weekend Domke’s wife was out of town, and on a lark he made a loaf of bread from scratch for the first time in his life. It was pretty good. That night, he had the dream.
“In the dream I saw people from the Bridge working together, making loaves of bread,” he said. The Bridge is a ministry to homeless people in downtown St. Louis that is housed at Lafayette Park’s sister church, Centenary UMC.
The next day, Domke went to work on how to make that dream a reality. That was last September. There has now been more than 10,000 loaves of Bridge Bread sold.
The primary aim of Bridge Bread is to give the people who are seeking meals and shelter at the Bridge an opportunity to work and make some money. Bread makes sense, because the ingredients are cheap, it’s labor-intensive, and the end product is valuable and commonly desired.
The bread is primarily sold at churches on Sunday. It is sold at Manchester UMC, Lafayette Park UMC, The Word at Shaw, Emmanuel Free in Alton and Bonhomme Presbyterian in West County. It is also sold at St. Louis University. If any is left Monday morning, Domke takes it to his office, where people pick it up and make a donation if they want.
“Sometimes someone will pitch in a 20 (dollar bill),” Domke said. “I get rid of all of it by Wednesday. We don’t have to throw any away.”
Expansion is on the horizon. Domke is working with someone who is about to open an upscale hamburger place, and plans to get a couple thousand buns from Bridge Bread on a regular basis.
The bread is baked in the kitchen at Centenary UMC, so they have to work around times when the kitchen is busy preparing meals for The Bridge. Domke is thinking about expanding, but the only easy way to do so would be to add a night shift. The workers are more than willing to pull an all-nighter, but finding volunteers to supervise is harder.
“I’m not up for being there all night myself,” Domke said. “We could hire a security guard, but that would be expensive.”
A donor has provided Bridge Bread with a proofing box, used to help the dough rise. Another donor paid for a new stand mixer, which cost more than $2,000. Someone else has offered to buy a new oven when the operation needs to expand.
Some of the workers at Bridge Bread have already pulled themselves out of homelessness and moved on to a more stable living situation after the program gave them a foundation of employment. For more information about Bridge Bread, go to www. bridgebread.org.