Let your light shine: Lincoln Heights

In the spirit of Matthew 5:16, we’re sharing examples of people who live their faith. 

Every weekend, members of Lincoln Heights Evangelical Lutheran Church gather to assemble and distribute meals to the homeless community of south Des Moines, Iowa. They are led by Paul “Panera Paul” Menzel. 

This homeless ministry began in 2010 when a new location for the bakery and café chain Panera Bread opened in downtown Des Moines. Paul had heard that the chain often would donate leftover bread and baked goods, and he asked for some on behalf of the church to feed the homeless in the area. The management agreed, and the work began. 

Paul recalls one of the first loaves he gave away to a homeless man: “I passed him this enormous piece of bread. It may have still been warm, because he zipped it into his shirt.” 

Before long, other members of Lincoln Heights asked to assist Paul, assembling the bread into sandwiches. With the addition of a bag of chips and a bottle of water, they were soon handing out entire bagged meals. They also included a small card with a message of encouragement from God’s Word. 

Paul was welcomed by those he served, earning the nickname “Panera Paul.” The homeless community now looks forward to his weekly visits. They occasionally ask to pray with him or request one of his signature Scripture cards. 

The ministry takes what Paul called a “soft sell” approach. 

Matt Pfeifer, pastor at Lincoln Heights, echoes Paul, saying, “The attitude we have is that if we can provide a meal and they learn that they are cared for by at least one person—by Christ—then we are doing good.” 

Paul estimates that since 2010 Lincoln Heights’ homeless ministry has given away over 53,000 pounds—nearly 27 tons—of bread and other baked goods. And they show no signs of stopping. “We’ve done it in snow at 20 degrees below zero and in the summer when it was higher than 80,” Paul explains. 

Whether there is sun, rain, or sleet, he and the other volunteers can be found spending their weekends sharing the kindness of the Savior with the less fortunate through the simple gift of a meal. 

Dayton Hamann 


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Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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