“My faith and God’s love drives me to action,” says Katherine Dinsdale, national journalist, passionate advocate for the homeless and mentally ill, and founder of Five Loaves House in Lawrence.
“Jesus used five loaves to feed 5,000 people, and I believe we can use the small things we have to help at least one person at a time.”
Dinsdale’s active spirit was evident growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. She ran a library out of her playhouse, imposed hefty late fines on neighborhood kids and became fascinated with hobos.
“I saw a double-paged spread in Craft’s child encyclopedia listing different code markings hobos supposedly used to indicate bad dogs, free lunches and other things,” she says.
“I searched everywhere in my suburban neighborhood for those markings and wanted to find out everything I could about hobos.”
She studied pre-med at Baylor University but transferred to journalism when a freshman English teacher submitted some of her essays to Baylor’s alumni magazine.
“The editor published them and hired me,” she says.
“I continued to work for her throughout college. She’s remained a life-long mentor and encourager of my writing, my faith and my work with people in poverty.”
She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and English in 1981, journeyed the world as a travel writer, wrote for national publications and became associate editor of Dallas D magazine. She met her husband, Bob, in 1979 when they both volunteered as tutors at a Waco children’s home. They married in 1982, then moved to Lawrence in 1990 when Bob completed his otolaryngology residency in Dallas.
“By then we had three daughters and were ready to change from the big city,” she says.
She became a full-time mom, continued freelance writing and befriended several homeless people.
“God gave me a great nagging hunger for purpose and meaning and a loving, supportive husband with similar values who encouraged me to support the needy in our community,” she says.
She joined Lawrence’s Task Force on Homelessness in 2003 and served on Lawrence’s Commission on Homelessness (including two years as chair) until 2010.
“Our group accomplished a lot, and I learned there was a tremendous need for housing women with mental illness,” she says. “Many people seem to be afraid of mental illness and dealing with the mentally ill.”
When friend Rodger Henry offered her a run-down house, she renovated it with support from churches, local businesses and many community volunteers. Five Loaves opened in 2008 and regularly houses two female residents with mental challenges at a time.
“We seek to provide friendship and help with a wide network of volunteers,” she says. “Healthy friendships are often the best medicine.”
Residents and volunteers continue working with Bert Nash and other mental health and social service professionals until more permanent housing is secured.
“If it weren’t for Five Loaves, some of our residents would be homeless and utterly alone,” Dinsdale says.
“We aim to walk alongside the women in the midst of their struggles and believe in the hope of the Gospel. I feel privileged to be part of it.”