PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — For nearly 50 years, the Panama City Rescue Mission has provided hot meals to community members in need.

After battling Hurricane Michael in 2018 and an arson fire in 2020, it has been a long road to get back to normal.

Monday is the first night in two years the shelter has been able to reopen its community dinner service.

President and CEO Stephen Fett said sharing a meal with someone is a great way to bond and can be the first step to recovery.

“That’s where you meet folks and ultimately break bread with them,” Fett said. “Then you can ask them questions about what’s going on in their life and ultimately then help them to find the resources that they need.”

Since taking on the role of CEO, Fett has made the program more about tangible life transformation than just a place for shelter.

“We feel here at the rescue mission that our new business model is more about being a gathering place where we have food and shelter,” Fett said. “Then we outsource to our strategic partners the difficult work of transformation with respect to addiction or mental illness or housing or career.”

Partners like the Life Management Center, the LEAD coalition, and CareersSource Gulf Coast.

Fett said having these partnerships has resulted in skyrocketing success.

“In the first year of our Gateway Life Transformation Program, we have successfully transitioned 156 women and children to sobriety, stable employment, and secure housing; a 30-fold increase in our results,” Fett said.

The rescue mission also partners with local restaurants and businesses for the dinner and has brought their food costs down from $100,000 a year to zero.

The dinner is served every weekday night from 4:30 to 5:30 at the location on 6th Street and Allen Avenue in downtown Panama City.

Those looking to volunteer at the community dinners can click here to find more information on how to sign-up.