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Plain Dealer Article

Manna Food from Heaven Ministries

Thomas Ondrey, The Plain Dealer


Melvin HodgeMelvin Hodge, in the kitchen of the Lakeside homeless shelter, says a smile is the best reward he gets for the dinners he prepares.
Praise the Lord and pass the fried chicken.
It works for Melvin Hodge, co-founder of Manna Food from Heaven Ministries, who cooks this specialty for a down-home dinner every second and fourth Saturday for residents of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry's men's shelter at 2100 Lakeside Avenue.
It also works for some 37,000 people who enjoyed these dinners last year at Lakeside Avenue and other area shelters, and affectionately dub Hodge's effort "the chicken church."
Volunteers from area churches and community groups help Hodge prepare and distribute the dinner which, by popular demand, has remained unchanged for the past 10 years, including green beans with white potatoes, collard greens, steamed cabbage, corn bread, yams and "manna" (banana) pudding.
And, of course the featured entree, fried -- not baked, boiled, broiled or barbecued -- chicken. Upwards of 800 pounds per meal, all given the personal Hodge touch because as he says, not bragging of course, "I am the cook."
Food to make a difference in the physical and spiritual health of the homeless and downtrodden has been his goal even before he helped start the Manna Food from Heaven Ministries in 1992. It has served more than 200,000 hot meals since then. The dinners and monthly breakfasts are both provisioned by the Cleveland Foodbank.
"It's something that God has instilled in me," said Hodge, 55, of Cleveland Heights. Recently retired after a 30-year Postal Service career, he is also a deacon at The Word Church in Cleveland.
"It's funny what a little fried chicken can do," he added. "You never know what you can mean to somebody."
And Hodge means a lot to folks who use the Lakeside Avenue shelter, according to Mike Moguel, director of operations.
Beyond the fried chicken, which always tends to draw more diners than usual, Hodge has "a huge effect," Moguel said. "There's a direct correlation between his work, providing a little spiritual happiness with a full stomach, and some of the transitioning out of the shelter for guys he works with individually.
"He reflects God's warmth," he added. "The people who've been forgotten or turned their backs on society, he welcomes with as much love as anybody I've seen."
Lydia Bailey, shelter coordinator, credited Hodge's "ebullient" nature with winning residents over. "Men at the shelter have a sixth sense as to who to trust, and Melvin is just so genuine -- they see someone so upbeat, really wanting to be there -- they know he's caring people."
To Hodge, a single thank-you, just one smile, is enough reward to keep him coming back. And he credits the help of volunteers, notably including his wife of 36 years, Debra, and four children.
Someday he would like to have his own place "where I can cook any time I want to, and have the doors open so whoever's hungry can just walk in and get a meal."


"Forget not to show LOVE unto
Strangers: for thereby some
have entertained ANGELS unwares"
Hebrews 13:2