Daily Reporter staff writer

GREENFIELD — The bakery truck driver asked Brian Burkhardt if he wanted some bread.

Burkhardt said sure, but what the driver showed him was far more than he expected: trays and trays of bread, arranged in stacks — about 500 loaves.

And so began a ministry that would feed the needy in five area counties.

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Burkhardt approached his church, Calvary Baptist Church in Greenfield, about whether it could help make use of such bread. Leaders there said yes, if he could lead the effort.

The bread is subject to a pull date, often three to seven days before its expiration date, when it must be removed from store shelves. Those on a route restocking bread gather this bread when they drop off the new loaves.

So on Thursday mornings, Burkhardt is part of a group of six to eight men from the church who drive to Flowers Baking Co. on Franklin Road in Indianapolis. The other men cover for him when his every-third-day schedule at Greenfield Fire Department means he must be at the station.

The men take a truck and trailer, plus another van, to hold about 90 trays’ worth of bread. A tray holds 10 loaves of bread, nine packages of hamburger buns, 12 packages of hot dog buns or bagels, or 21 packages of English muffins. Occasionally there are doughnuts or cupcakes.

The products come under various brand names. The types of bread and number of items vary week to week, depending upon what remained on store shelves.

The men drive the bread back to Calvary Baptist, 1450 W. Main St. in Greenfield, where another crew of six to eight volunteers sorts it. In the beginning, the bread was largely distributed among the Calvary Baptist congregation, but members spread the word and found new ways to share. Some took a loaf to offer to a neighbor as a friendly gesture “to just make connections in their neighborhood,” Burkhardt said.

These days, the van picking up bread makes some deliveries before returning to church. One stop is the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen. Other stops include some local senior communities, such as Good Shepherd Lutheran Manor.

LaJeana Haley, manager at Good Shepherd, said residents are eager when the bread comes. There’s a certain camaraderie surrounding that moment in the week, from the chatting among residents standing together waiting, to the residents carrying bread to their neighbors who cannot make it down to meet the delivery.

“(You’ll hear) ‘I know you usually like the wheat bread, so I brought you up a loaf,’” Haley said. “It’s really nice.”

The truck and trailer go back to Calvary Baptist, where the team of volunteers sorts the bread by type of item.

Volunteer Polly Dull pulls out enough for a few families she knows, some whose members have faced lost jobs or changing family situations. “I know about how much they need of what,” she said.

Harold Suddarth, who usually loads the trailer off the dock at Flowers, said he and fellow volunteers try to work quickly after the bread gets to the church, so when people come for bread, it’s easier for them to find what they want. Because after the deliveries are made, the bread remaining at the church is free for the taking.

“Let them come and get what they need,” Burkhardt said. “We don’t have any kind of requirement or limitations. Anybody can come over if they need a loaf of bread.”

Burkhardt said the bread distribution has grown over time. A ministry in Johnson County, Living Bread, receives bread through the church’s donation arrangement, and so do Greenfield and Anderson offices for the federal government’s nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Through willing contacts and volunteers, portions of the available bread loads reach five counties.

“This ministry is growing by the grace of God,” Burkhardt said. “There have been connections made that none of us would have ever thought about.”

Within those counties, there’s no way for him to calculate exactly how many people are eating the bread, and that’s OK with him.

“It’s never been about numbers. It’s about reaching people who have a need.”