Rubin: Keeping the sunny side up for 12,000 days

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The director says the volunteers treat Breakfast at St. Andrew’s like a job, but really, they don’t. With a job, sometimes you stay home.

At St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, the meals have hit the plates without fail for more than 33 years. Through blizzards and a blackout, lean times and fat, the doors to the parish hall have swung open and people in need have trooped through.

Coffee, milk and juice. Oatmeal and grits. Dry cereal, bread, pastries. Any kind of egg you want, seven days a week, as long as you want hard-boiled: “We’re licensed to heat things,” explains board member and dishwasher Jim Cain, “not cook.”

Assuming nothing disastrous happened this morning, Breakfast at St. Andrew’s has been served for 12,229 straight days.

In 1982, the auto industry was in trouble and so were a lot of people in Ann Arbor. On Aug. 16, as best anyone remembers, a corps of good-hearted parishioners decided to help out for a little while by providing breakfast to the needy.

The need never went away, and neither did the volunteers. They’ve since set up their own non-profit to operate the breakfast program, and Saturday night at the Ark — call (734) 761-1800 — they’ll hold their principal annual fundraiser.

It’s a $30, roots-and-branches-of-Americana concert with four acts and a perfect name:


Like Jesus said

Breakfast at St. Andrew’s has 273 active volunteers and one employee — director Morgan Battle, 34, who works part time.

She has only been on the job 18 months, but takes understandable pride in an endurance record nearly as old as she is.

When 50 million people across eight states lost power in August 2003, the breakfast club fired up its gas stoves, put tables on the church lawn and served there.

When the third-biggest snowstorm in Metro Detroit history descended just over a year ago, Battle worried that the kitchen wouldn’t have enough staff to open.

Instead, she says, “we actually had too many volunteers.”

Figuring the weather would keep more distant colleagues off the road, team members who lived nearby grabbed snow shovels and reported for duty, whether they were on the schedule or not.

Then their cohorts mucked through the drifts and crowded into the 80-seat room with a passage from John 21:12 in big letters on the wall: “Jesus said, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ ”

Battle says St. Andrew’s averages more than 150 guests — the preferred term — from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., with weekdays busier than weekends.

“You see them around town and you stop and talk,” she says. “You know their names and their stories.”

Few are students; they tend to be 50 or older. Many are working, sometimes at several part-time, grub-wage jobs.

“You realize how close to the edge so many people live,” Battle says. “There’s no way to make ends meet doing that, especially in Ann Arbor.”

Music for muffins

The organization has an annual budget of $168,000, most of it privately donated.

Breakfest 2016 is designed to collect $10,000 to $14,000 and to take place indoors, unlike a golf outing.

That was one suggestion when the economy was floundering in 2010 and the board decided Breakfast at St. Andrew’s needed some financial protein.

“Trust me,” said Cain, who works in communications for GM, “a golf outing is complicated and expensive. And it can rain.”

Cain, 48, also runs a monthly folk program called Acoustic Routes at Mangiamo Italian Grill in Saline. It’s non-profit, at least for him; all the money goes to the performers.

He’d love to open a full-time music club, “but I’m too young to go broke.” So he satisfies the urge by offering expenses but no fee to Breakfest acts like Nathan Bell of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who will perform with Rachel Brown & the Beatnik Playboys of Cleveland.

Also on the bill are Dakota Dave Hull from the Twin Cities, Ann Arbor’s Rollie Tussing and high school junior Samantha Dunlap of Chelsea.

Ordinarily, most of them sing for their suppers.

At the Ark, they’ll be singing for other people’s breakfasts — and for the next 12,000 mornings.