Life's few necessities drew a long line of the homeless and poor back to Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church yesterday. They came for the weekly organized meal, a rarity in Baltimore on Saturday afternoons, and for a chance to eat in peace.
A week after a stabbing death at the previous meal in the church's basement dining room, many who heard or saw the attack were again lined up along Charles Street, still motivated by a need for food and safety, and confident that church leaders would still provide a haven.
"I've been coming here for a while," said David Haynes, 55, who said he has eaten here Saturdays for a year. "I feel safe coming here. It's really a good place."
The Rev. John R. Schol, bishop of the Baltimore-Washington region, attended the dinner, offering coffee and comfort to the estimated 225 who came.
The historic Mount Vernon church, which stands near the Washington Monument, has provided the weekend meal for at least 17 years, and leaders yesterday said they remained steadfast in their commitment. They said they hoped their presence would reassure the people who depend on the meal.
"This is the church's business," said the church's pastor, the Rev. Jarrett Wicklein.
Said Schol, "We're here because where would they go otherwise?"
About 30 people from the local church and a sister parish in Ellicott City put on the meal of ham-and-pasta casserole, corn, bread and, for dessert, brownies. The Mount Vernon church draws volunteers from area United Methodist churches, synagogues and other religious groups throughout the year, Wicklein said.
Some who came to eat yesterday expressed gratitude for the church and the volunteers, and sorrow for the man who was killed in front of them, Rodney Dickerson, 42.
A few wanted to know how the volunteers were holding up.
"On the whole, it's a very caring group of people," said Caroleann Myers, a longtime staff member at the church. "It's a family because we've been here for so long."
The stabbing occurred about 5 p.m. June 18 in the basement dining room, called the Carpenter's Kitchen, after two men got into a fight. Myers said altercations have occurred over the years but that most were resolved without much harm. She said the latest incident happened so quickly that no one had time to react.
The unidentified assailant stabbed Dickerson with an unknown weapon and fled the church. Dickerson died about an hour later at Johns Hopkins Hospital. No arrests have been made.
"People are still grieving," said Gary Norcross, 36, of Baltimore, who has come to eat at the church the past five months.
Church leaders said they have reassessed security measures in light of the stabbing. A volunteer told people in line that undercover officers would be present, and that once people were done eating, they would be asked to leave the area.
Dozens of people who finished eating and flowed outside onto a back alley near Charles Street were asked not linger near the church.
Wicklein described the relations between the Mount Vernon community and the church as "an up-and-down situation" over the years because of the crowd the meal attracts. "Sometimes things get a little out of hand. People outside get a little too boisterous," he said.
But church leaders said that many support the effort to provide a Saturday sanctuary for the needy.
"We're going to operate as we always have," Schol said. "We aren't going to usher people in and out of here."