Millions of meals served – with love

Jan Haberly has had a lot of support from employees and volunteers as director of The Lord’s Diner in Wichita. She is planning to retire soon. (Advance photo)

Jan Haberly retiring after serving the hungry at The Lord’s Diner for 17 years

Jan Haberly has served thousands upon thousands of meals in her career in the restaurant business and during 17 years of service at The Lord’s Diner.

Her most recent career move began 20 years ago when the lease on her family’s restaurant was ending. She sensed it was time for a change.

“I went to the adoration chapel every week and I prayed about it,” she said. “We received the Catholic Advance at the restaurant and when I returned from my adoration hour I opened it up and there was a position open for a volunteer coordinator at The Lord’s Diner. I thought, hmm, I could do that.”

God doesn’t answer prayer by tapping you on the shoulder, she said, so she called and talked to Wendy Glick, the Diner’s director at that time, and she hired Haberly in 2005 as the ministry’s volunteer coordinator.

Haberly served as volunteer coordinator for six years when Glick resigned to become executive director of Catholic Charities.

Haberly considered applying as the Diner’s director but was hesitant. So this time God worked through one of the Diner volunteers.

“I was sharing my office with a volunteer and she asked if I was going to apply for the Director position. I told her I had written my resume but wasn’t sure. She asked if I had prayed about it. I told her I had, but I hadn’t stopped to listen. She said, ‘Let’s pray.’ So we stopped and prayed. I opened my eyes and hit the send key. I decided in prayer that it wasn’t my decision, it was God’s.”

Another prayer answered

As one of the candidates for the job as director she was invited to be interviewed. The committee was made up of a dozen influential people. “It was a bit overwhelming.”

“Before the interview, I stepped into the little chapel (in the Chancery) and prayed to the Holy Spirit to let my words come out right because sometimes I’m not as articulate as I’d like,” she said. “The interview went much better than I had expected.”

After talking to Bishop Jackels and getting his nod, she was hired as director of the Diner in 2011.

“I learned a lot from Wendy by observing,” she said. “It was a learning curve but I felt really comfortable because the whole staff stayed, we were the same team.”

Ministry reaches even more

The Diner had opened a satellite location at 2825 S. Hillside just months before she became director. After much research and having such great community support she and the advisory council discerned a need for mobile trucks that would deliver food to low-income neighborhoods with food prepared at the Diner. The first mobile location was the Evergreen Community Center in Wichita. With the success of the first truck, they were approached by Dear Neighbor Ministries about a truck in the Hilltop neighborhood.

“It was like boom, boom” and we were in the mobile feeding business, she said, adding that the kitchen had to be expanded to accommodate the increase of the number of meals served. A third truck that stops at the Atwater Center in north Wichita was added later.

In 2016 the expansion reached outside of Wichita.

“Representatives from Pittsburg came to us and asked if we would support a Diner there,” Haberly said. “They had strong community support so we knew they could handle it. We said we would support you administratively but you’ve got to have your own volunteer base and financial support.”

In addition to the incorporation of three mobile trucks and the Pittsburg location under Haberly’s tenure, the main Diner location now also hosts a pantry and gives out snacks to the homeless weekday mornings and weekly food to the hungry who live in an area near the Diner.

Covid doesn’t stop the ministry

Another unforeseen challenge loomed for everyone involved with the ministry: the Covid pandemic.

“The (expansion) challenges were different because they were positive changes,” she said. “We knew we were doing the right thing. We knew our donor base was strong. They wanted us to feed the hungry.”

Covid has been a negative challenge, she added. “It’s been hard. Our mission is one delivered with respect and dignity which we’ve maintained that but not the way we want to with Covid.”

Because of Covid, she said, the Diner has been feeding its guests with take-out packaging since March of 2020. “The day the mandate limited the number of people allowed in a venue we switched to to-go meals.”

Haberly said the ups and downs of the pandemic have been difficult because every time they think they may be able to open the doors to serve at tables something else comes along.

A transition plan to open the Diner’s doors is ready. They are only waiting for the right time to implement it.

She will soon serve her last meal as head of the ministry. Haberly will retire soon.

Retirement plans

Her transition out of the job as leader of the ministry is causing her to reflect, Haberly said.

“I’ve had a lot of anxiety. Leaving is hard. I’m not irreplaceable by any means but my heart is here and I want the staff to be happy and comfortable.”

She said two keys to the job as the director are patience and understanding. “I had an advantage by being volunteer director. I saw the everyday operations first hand.”

Haberly said she is looking forward to having nothing to do. “This job is all-consuming sometimes. It’s an operational job, hands-on day-to-day. There is going to be an adjustment period of not having to get up and be on the job.”

She plans to spend time with the grandchildren and travel with her husband, Ken, and, of course, to volunteer. She says she is most grateful for all of the blessings this job has provided. “Working to serve our guests alongside some amazing staff and volunteers – not the mention all of the guests I’ve met along the way. I have lots of stories to tell!”