What we now call Ladle Fellowship originated out of an idea by a young law student named John Bord to serve coffee and doughnuts to young professionals walking to work downtown. This was tried in the spring of 1983 by John and one of our pastors, Burt Smith.
Although they did meet a few young professionals, it was found that the coffee and doughnuts attracted mainly homeless men and women living nearby. They had many good conversations with these folks, but the project had to be halted after a few weeks since it was starting to interfere with parents bringing children to City Tree Christian School.
About a year or so earlier a fire had destroyed the kitchen, dining room, and part of the sanctuary of our church. These had been rebuilt and there was discussion on how we could better use these facilities. John's interest in how we could help those they had met on the street led to the formation of a small committee to study the situation. The committee came up with the idea of possibly serving a meal to the homeless and elderly living in this area. After consulting with other groups providing services downtown it was decided to try serving a meal on Sunday afternoons as there was no other downtown agency feeding at this time. A proposal was brought to the leaders of First Presbyterian church and was approved on a six month trial basis.
There were about 15 guests that showed up the first Sunday and the volunteers greatly outnumbered the guests. By word of mouth the numbers grew to over 100 the second week, and by mid summer we were feeding up to 500 each week. The rapid growth prompted us to enlist other groups that could help us serve. This has become an important part of our ministry ever since. We have many outside groups that help serve the Sunday meal including church youth groups, Boy Scouts, Bible study fellowships, and international student organizations.
In the beginning Ladle was run entirely by laypeople. After a while it became apparent that there was a need for a director to coordinate activities. We had several part-time directors over the years, most of whom stayed for a year or two. In 2002 Doug Webster, our former Pastor, convinced Allen Randall to take over the leadership of Ladle on a full time basis. Allen served as Ladle director until his retirement in June 2011. He had a tremendous impact on Ladle, increasing the services we provided, putting an emphasis on the spiritual as well as the physical, and involving more volunteers in this ministry. Although the number served each week has dropped to 200–300 due to other agencies serving meals on Sunday, the quality of our service improved significantly under his leadership. In addition to the meal on Sunday afternoon, Allen established a discipleship class on Thursday evenings for those Ladle guests that were interested in exploring Christianity or in deepening their faith. There were typically 20–30 that attended this class each week.
In 2009 Ladle began distributing food bags at our church on Saturday mornings to those living near the church. The recipients are mainly elderly living on fixed incomes and represent a variety of nationalities. We now do this on the second Saturday of each month. Typically we serve around 200. These food distributions have become an important part of our ministry to this community.
In August 2011 Will Braswell became the new Ladle director. Under his leadership we added an outreach to needy military families. This had to be discontinued in 2016 when Will retired. We also added a case worker from Presbyterian Urban Ministries who is available on one Sunday a month to provide IDs, Birth Certificates, and addiction counselling.
In June 2016 John Savidge was hired as the new Ladle Director. One of the first things John and his wife Leslie did was to form a prayer team whose members sit at the tables with our guests, talk with them, pray with them, and take down written prayer requests. These requests are distributed to over 100 individuals who pray for our guests during the week. We have seen many answers to prayer. The discipleship class was moved to Wednesday evening and has grown to 70–90. A meal is served afterwards. In October 0f 2016 Ladle partnered with La Jolla Presbyterian church to form the San Diego Street Choir. They have performed in a number of community events and host an annual concert to raise money for the Monarch school for homeless kids. In August of 2017 Ladle began offering to our guests medical screening by volunteer doctors and nurses. Our longterm goal is to take medical teams out on the street to provide medical services right where the homeless live. Finally, Ladle cooperates with San Diego Downtown Fellowship to provide mentors to those transitioning off the streets. We are anticipating many more useful additions to the Ladle program in the future.
Recently, the pastor of First Presbyterian church received a letter from John Bord, the head of the committee that started Ladle, providing details on the early history of Ladle. You can read this letter by clicking on the link John Bord Letter (PDF).
Lite on a Hill
Video Story of Ladle Fellowship
The Presbyterian Foundation has prepared a video on the story behind Ladle Fellowship at First Presbyterian Church. You can view this video below.