Area groups feed the hungry and ‘restore hope in people’
Winchester — From a neighborly handout to a restaurant-style operation, soup kitchens in Winchester fill a need for hundreds of people every week.
In 2001, co-coordinators Pam Bowles and Jean Stewart started Kitchen of Hope from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday at Market Street United Methodist Church in Winchester. At the time, they only knew of a few other soup kitchens serving the community.
Today, between soup kitchens run by local churches, organizations, and individuals, someone in need could potentially find at least one free meal every day of the week, said Stewart of Winchester.
“I think a lot of the newer kitchens are from newer churches downtown who think there is a ministry opportunity,” she said.
It’s not only a ministry tool, although sharing faith plays a role in many of the soup kitchens, said the Rev. Jeff Beard, pastor of Living Faith Church in Winchester. Just as important as the food, at least to many local organizers, is letting people in need know someone cares, even if it is a total stranger.
Living Faith sponsors a soup kitchen from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, he said. It averages from 80 to 120 people each time.
“The greatest thing we see is the restored hope in people and lives turned around,” he said. “They come in broken and looking for a meal and hope. Then they start coming back again and again.”
Filling a need
Beard sees the growing presence of soup kitchens today as a recognition that filling one of humanity’s most basic needs — hunger — can have a huge impact.
Whether people realize it or not, the community benefits as a result, he said. If people are impoverished, hungry, and desperate and feel they have no other recourse, there is that danger they will feel the need to “get it in the wrong ways” through crime. That hurts the community.
“If you can avert some of that stuff just by providing a meal, that is priceless,” he said.
When so many people already are struggling to provide shelter, utilities, transportation to jobs, and clothes on their back, food is one worry soup kitchens can help alleviate, said Megan Pugh, a volunteer with Braddock Street United Methodist Church’s soup kitchen. The service is offered at 6 p.m. Mondays.
“We have been feeding between 80 and 100 people all summer long,” she said. “That is pretty average for us not just during the summer. It has been like that for a while.”
Several of the local soup kitchen coordinators agree they could not operate if it were not for community support — whether through donations of food, money, or time.
Although it is located at Market Street, Kitchen of Hope is not a church-funded project, Bowles said. Instead, organizers put it together on a shoestring budget using donations of food or money from church members and other donated items from the community.
It has no set budget because it is an entirely fluid thing from month to month, she said.
For instance, three Fridays a month, Panera Bread in Winchester donates baked goods it didn’t sell that day but are still good, she said. Those might be added to a meal featuring spaghetti noodles that have been donated, and meat and sauce and salad fixings that were bought.
They have become experts at stretching every dollar and donation to its maximum benefit, she said. She can put out a pretty good meal for an average of 45 people for $50 to $75 plus donated items.
First Presbyterian Church’s Jubilee Kitchen is fortunate to have regular backing from the church and the congregation, without which they couldn’t continue, said Ken Fujishiro, who manages it with his wife, Daisy.
“We have several large benefactors who keep our coffers where we can operate,” he said.
The soup kitchen, which was started in 1985, is open from 11:30 to noon Saturdays at the church in Winchester. It feeds anywhere from 75 to 100 people each time, but they cook for 120 “so those who are hungry get seconds and even thirds. As long as they are hungry, we will feed them.”
Soup kitchens are heavily dependent on volunteers for food preparation, serving, and clean-up.
Living Faith Church partners with three to four churches every month that provide volunteers to come in and serve the meals, Beard said. “If we had to do it on our own, we would not be able to do it. There is no way that we would be able to keep funding the soup kitchen and overhead.”
In Kitchen of Hope, four different cooks rotate responsibility for preparing the Thursday night meal, Bowles said. When the month has a fifth Thursday, Round Hill United Methodist Men prepare the food and serve it.
In addition to the regular volunteer workers who come to Jubilee Kitchen every week, other churches and organizations take turns helping, Fujishiro said.
They have churches that provide both adult and youth volunteers, service organizations, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other groups.
The volunteers help with last-minute preparation, setting tables, serving and clean-up, he said. Jubilee Kitchen also provides opportunities for people with court-assigned community service to meet their obligation.
Fighting a stigma
Most of the soup kitchens have an open door policy — if people are hungry, they get fed.
In its early years, one challenge organizers of Kitchen of Hope faced was dispelling the myth that the only people who come to a soup kitchen are the homeless, Bowles said.
They certainly get some of that population, but there are also seniors on a fixed income and families just struggling to survive, she said. In the last few years, they have noticed an increase in the number of children they see.
There is a core group of 20 to 25 people who come regularly, including some seniors who use the service as a way to supplement their limited budget and get out, Bowles said. For them, the soup kitchen is not just a way to feed their bellies but their “need for social interaction” and just being with other people.
“We had within our church the misconception that these people sit around and do drugs or drink,” she said. “I know that is not everybody who feels that way, but that is still out there.”
Beard has fought the same misconceptions, and he tries to make those people understand that “everyone needs a handout these days,” he said.
“It all still boils down to the economy and not having jobs or money,” he said. “It is a brokenness in the community and a sense of not being able to maintain.”
More than a meal
When people get to the point where they have to seek a handout, whether it is at a soup kitchen, food pantry, or clothes closet, some recipients come into that experience with a sense of shame, Fujishiro said. That is the last thing he wants.
At Jubilee Kitchen, the goal is to make it feel more like a social time than a handout.
Instead of having people line up for food, it is brought to them on china plates with metal silverware while they sit at their table, he said.
“It is one of those cases where they should feel like they are eating in a restaurant,” he said. “We have round tables with eight people at a table so they have the opportunity to talk. The camaraderie of the folks is incredible to watch.”
Beard believes Living Faith’s role is one of “restoration and showing the unconditional love of God.” He lets people know they don’t have to pay or be a saint to be welcome there.
“So many people feel so broken beyond compare and feel there is no where they can go. That is not true,” he said. “We just want to love on them and give them hope.”
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com