From owning a successful home decor store in Suttons Bay to making and serving homemade meals to food-insecure folks through 5Loaves2Fish—it’s not your average retirement. Unless you’re Leland’s Peggy Miller.

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Retirement was just a whisper in Peggy’s ear last year. One she had been ignoring. She was entering her 13th summer of running her store, At Home, in Suttons Bay, and she loved it. The store had been her baby, her joy and her job for so long, she couldn’t imagine life without it.

However, when COVID-19 closed the store for much of 2020, Peggy found herself with time on her hands as she sat at home in Leland. At the same time, Michelle and Bill White were just about to launch 5Loaves2Fish, a community outreach program through the Leland Community United Methodist Church.

“I got excited to help Michelle get going,” says Peggy. “So, we just started cooking.”

5 Loaves 2 Fish box with "You Are Amazing" written on it.
5 Loaves 2 Fish woman filling up food container
As 5Loaves2Fish started taking shape, Peggy realized this could be the time for her to step back from her professional life and instead focus on volunteering for her second act. Her husband, Geno, had recently retired, helping prompt her to make the same change. Nowadays, Peggy, at age 62, spends two to three days a week volunteering for 5Loaves2Fish, and she’s loving it.

“A silver lining to COVID is that I have never felt so happy working and giving back,” Peggy says. “Besides, I can’t play solitaire 24/7. I have tendonitis in my hands from it!” she quips.

5Loaves2Fish is not your average church kitchen: They make everything from scratch, even the pasta. Peggy grew up in a family of eight children, so she says she is used to making big meals for lots of people. On the flip side, Michelle had experience in catering and is “one of one” children, Peggy says. It was a good match.

“She’s been my friend since I was 20 years old,” Peggy says. “She’s the type of friend you can pick up with at any time and laugh!”

5 Loaves 2 Fish food truck
5Loaves2Fish is a reference to a Bible story in which Jesus used just five loaves and two fish supplied by a boy to feed a multitude of people. Peggy says it’s ironic and symbolic that they have seen that actually happen: They often have just the right amount of food every time they serve, even though they never know how many people will show up.

“One time, Michelle had 65 chicken breasts, and we fed 72 people! What are the odds? It worked out—it always does!” Peggy says.

It often works out with the help of the community, as well. “We needed a new fridge and commercial freezer, and the next thing we know, Island Time Catering donated one to us,” recalls Peggy. “Another time, we wanted a pasta machine and I reached out to (the now closed) Leelanau Country Inn, and they donated their commercial pasta machine.” With the new machine, they can make fettuccini for 50 in about 30 minutes.

The meals are varied and often feature local foods. One recent meal was meatloaf, asparagus, three different pasta choices (buttered, kale pesto and beet pesto—the beets and kale from Second Spring Farm in Cedar) and fresh strawberries from Bardenhagen Berries in Lake Leelanau.

And the latest joy for those at 5Loaves2Fish? A 24-foot, decked-out food trailer named “Vinny,” after the donors, Vince Tomczak and Kristy Lorraine. It includes a six-burner gas range, flat-top grill and refrigeration. The trailer allows 5Loaves2Fish to take their show on the road. Instead of hauling food in totes and car trunks, they can now set up and serve food fresh from the trailer, offering increased accessibility to those in need.

You can see the new food trailer on Mondays at Veterans Park in Traverse City, serving 45–65 meals a week to guests experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. The nonprofit team also has another service each week where food is delivered to families.

Beyond food, 5Loaves2Fish has a pulse on the needs of the homeless community. “If someone needs a sleeping bag, we go get it, or a tent, we get it,” Peggy says. “Or we gather clothes. Last month, I set up a pharmacist to give COVID shots. We just kind of find out what they need.”

Retirement is nothing like Peggy expected: It’s better. “Everything is done with love,” she says. “It’s just such an incredible opportunity to be a part of—you can’t help but feel good doing it. We play oldies and laugh. It’s been an amazing experience!”

5 Loaves 2 Fish woman posing
Visit 5Loaves2Fish online at 5loaves2fishnmi.org.
Kandace Chapple is a freelance writer and owner of Michigan Girl, an event planning business. She can be reached at kandacechapple.com.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner

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