MIRANDA BARTHMUS was munching on some brunch at Sabrina's Cafe in the Italian Market last spring when something unexpected arrived at her table: a side of serendipity.
Barthmus and some colleagues from the Bethesda Project, a nonprofit agency on South Street near 16th that helps feed and shelter area homeless folks, had attracted the attention of Robert DeAbreu, the owner of Sabrina's.
"We were celebrating, because we had just had our best fundraiser," said Barthmus, Bethesda's director of development. "Robert said he really wanted to get involved with a local organization, so I gave him my card."
Fast forward to December, when Bethesda began running its annual overnight cafes on Broad Street near Spruce for dozens of shelter-resistant homeless folks, some of whom suffer from mental illnesses.
Maintaining a steady supply of coffee and soup for the cafes - which run daily through the end of March - is always a challenge, said Barthmus.
In stepped DeAbreu, who volunteered to deliver enough soup every Wednesday to feed 75 people.
"The most amazing part is that they really came through," Barthmus said. "It's been a huge help, and it's definitely appreciated by all of our guests, having something as good as chicken noodle soup from Sabrina's. It's so comforting."
Last week, Barthmus presented DeAbreu with a certificate of appreciation at his cozy restaurant, on Christian Street near 9th. Bethesda also plans to give him a plaque as a formal thank-you.
Barthmus noted that Bethesda had tried in vain in the past to establish similar partnerships with local restaurants.
"I should mention that we run the cafes out of the Broad Street Ministry, right across from the Kimmel Center," she said. "A lot of local businesses don't want to lend a hand to help that particular population, especially if it's so out in the open."
The cafe opens every day about 9:30 p.m., and stays open until about 6 a.m. In addition to a hot meal, Bethesda workers also try to connect their homeless guests with housing services and other options.
DeAbreu, 44, was stunned to find that something as simple as a pot of soup could have such a meaningful impact at the shelter.
"Making soup is very easy, but when you go to the shelter and see what you're doing, it's very humbling," he said.
"When you go there, it's very sad, looking at these people suffering from mental illnesses," DeAbreu added. "It's everybody, all races, all age groups. You can see, 'Hey, I'm pretty lucky for what I have.' "
DeAbreu said he plans to donate soup to Bethesda again next winter, and hopes other restaurants might be inspired to help out, as well.
"It's good to give back," he said.
Bethesda's annual fundraising gala and auction will be held April 30 at Citizens Bank Park. For more information, visit bethesdaproject.org.