By Beccy Tanner | The Wichita Eagle
Between 4 and 6 p.m. each weekday, the hungry come to be fed.
And each night, the numbers grow.
Last month, the Lord’s Diner – a ministry of Catholic Charities – served 51,315 meals at its permanent locations and through its two food trucks. More than 16,000 of the meals were served through a food truck stationed in the Hilltop neighborhood at 1329 S. Terrace.
“We are always busy in the summer, but we weren’t worried,” said Jan Haberly, executive director of the Lord’s Diner when the food truck first started delivery in the Hilltop neighborhood.
At first, the truck served about 500 dinners a night. Soon those numbers were between 600 and 700 meals. But on the night of July 31, 921 meals were served.
The south Wichita neighborhood known as Hilltop includes housing units that were the first of three “Defense Village” projects built in Wichita and Sedgwick County by the federal government during the 1940s. The houses were constructed as temporary living quarters for World War II aircraft workers.
“We knew from our location on (Central and) Broadway that each night after the first of the month, there is a slow build,” Haberly said. “We’ve learned to increase our meals.
“But when we saw the numbers growing out of this food truck, there were some nights we had to stretch. The people still received a good meal but not everything was served – sometimes there wouldn’t be a dessert or fruit. We didn’t want that to happen again, so we now plan for 900 a night.”
Each night at least 50 percent of the people walk to the location near Harry and Oliver, Haberly said. Many are single mothers who also pick up meals for elderly neighbors.
“For a segment of the population, the economy is getting better,” Haberly said. “But for this segment, it isn’t getting better. Many of these people are still working two to three low-income jobs trying to make ends meet at $8 an hour. They are not making a lot of money.”
On Monday night, Billie Tucker picked up four meals – for himself, his wife and grandchildren.
“I come over here because with my Social Security and what medicine costs, I’m in the hole $400 a month,” Tucker said.
The Lord’s Diner opened downtown in February 2002 with a mission to serve Wichita’s hungry. It has since opened a location at 2825 S. Hillside in Planeview and has a food truck at Evergreen Recreation Center.
That’s in addition to the food truck at Hilltop, which began serving meals in June.
“The night we did 921 meals, it was raining,” Haberly said. “Still, people walked over here in the rain and waited 30 minutes in line for a meal. You don’t do that unless you really need it.”
Wichita police officer Justin Whyte, who regularly patrols the neighborhood, says many of the residents in Hilltop are living at the federal poverty level.
“There is not a lot of resources that come from the surrounding areas into Hilltop,” Whyte said. “A lot of them don’t have transportation. With the food truck here, it makes it easier.”
Before the food truck began serving meals, Sister Ann Catherine Burger regularly delivered food in the area. On Monday night, she greeted people as they arrived at the truck.
“People have to eat,” she aid. “Some can’t pay their bills, some can’t get medicine, but they do have to eat.”