Soup kitchen has fed the hungry for 27 years
By Kathy Chaffin
email@example.com Nov. 16, 1982, First Presbyterian Church of Salisbury started a soup kitchen in the downstairs of its sanctuary at Innes and Fulton streets to feed the hungry.
Sixteen people showed up to eat soup on opening day.
“It was wonderful just to see them coming in,” recalls Collin Choate Grubb, who helped start the soup kitchen along with Jean Jordan and the late Ginny Williamson, who chaired the church’s Witness Committee. “It was very gratifying to see their expressions.”
A photo of Jack Hinson eating at the soup kitchen on opening day ran in the Salisbury Post that Sunday. “His expression told how much he appreciated it,” she says.
Hinson would become a regular at the soup kitchen.
So would volunteers like Jordan, Williamson, Grubb and many others.
Supporters were reminiscing about the soup kitchen’s early days last week as Jordan approached a significant birthday and friends reflected on her accomplishments.
She was there from the beginning for the soup kitchen.
The late Jo White Linn, in her 1996 book on the history of First Presbyterian Church, wrote, “The soup kitchen served the hungry a well-balanced lunch with a ‘no questions asked’ policy.”
Several people offered to pay for their meals, according to Grubb. “We’d say, ‘This is something that the church is doing,'” she says.
One man, however, insisted on giving them some change.
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In the 27 years since then, the soup kitchen, now a part of Rowan Helping Ministries, has grown tremendously. The average number of meals served during the month of December was 126 for a month-long total of 3,906 meals.
The corps of volunteers who help man the kitchen has grown, too.
“The foundation that was laid back in the ’80s has been vital to where we are today,” says Dianne Scott, executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries. “Many of those in the community that were involved early on have stayed involved. Their wisdom, their compassion, their leadership have helped grow the programs and the services into what they are today.
“I just want them to know how important they were and have been.”
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The first week the First Presbyterian soup kitchen was open, Grubb says she, Jordan and Williamson all cooked the meals, later deciding to take turns. Fellow church members donated to the program and volunteered to help serve the meals.
Grubb says her late husband, John Grubb Jr., was a regular volunteer along with fellow church members Dr. Steve Thurston, Bill Loeblein and Morton Rochelle.
Before long, she said, the community got involved.
Food and volunteer hours were donated by members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, First Baptist, First Methodist, St. Luke’s Episcopal and United Church of Christ.
Ann Coggin of First Methodist brought leftovers from church dinners, including the remains of 50 pounds of pintos she had cooked for a fundraiser, Grubb says. “I was the one that had to make the cornbread that day,” she says.
The late Ruth Elliott of First Baptist also donated leftovers from church dinners. First Presbyterian even included Elliott’s recipe for broccoli casserole in its cookbook.
Local restaurants such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Hardee’s also donated food to the soup kitchen.
In her book, Linn, the First Presbyterian historian, wrote: “The Lord worked wondrously in this outreach ministry. An 84-year-old China Grove woman called to say that her garden had been so good for the past two years that she wanted to give the soup kitchen her canned vegetables; she arrived with 23 quarts of green beans and 17 pints of tomatoes.”
In its first two weeks, Linn wrote, the soup kitchen served 209 meals “and in a short time was serving an average of 85 well-balanced meals a day, many days more than a hundred.”
In response to criticism that serving people a free lunch would keep them from working, she wrote, “one veteran of the streets responded poignantly and accurately, ‘It won’t keep us from working, but it may keep us from starving.’ ”
Grubb says church women who served in the soup kitchen also kept donations of clothing for the homeless. Linn wrote that soup kitchen volunteers encouraged those who were able to seek employment and even helped them.
The first cook, Linn wrote, was a local bus driver named Alberta Rudisell who was followed by Jane Luhrs of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Grubb says First Presbyterian began looking for a new location for the soup kitchen once attendance approached 100.
In 1989, the soup kitchen was expanded into Rowan Helping Ministries and moved to its current location on North Long Street after Anne and Ralph Ketner and Clifford Peeler underwrote the cost of the land and a brick multipurpose headquarters.
Then First Presbyterian pastor Dr. Robert Lewis dedicated the building to the memory of Luhrs, reading a moving memorial written by Linn, who described her as “a gift from God.”
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The following year, Scott says the soup kitchen served an average of 70 noon meals per day on weekdays, for a yearlong total of 18,400.
Shortly afterward, the soup kitchen was expanded to include Saturdays and at some point, she says Rowan Helping Ministries started offering a Sunday lunch and church service for those who wish to attend from 11:30 to 12. “It’s called ‘God’s Table,’ ” Scott says, “and the volunteers that do the meals also have the service.”
Scott says Rowan Helping Ministries has not had any problems finding people to volunteer for the Sunday meal and church service. Churches, groups or individuals can volunteer.
“It is appealing to the guests because they don’t have to worry about what they have on,” she says. “It’s ‘Come as you are,’ and it’s their service.”
Rowan County residents contribute to the soup kitchen with canned food drives and donations
of meat, fresh vegetables and produce.
The soup kitchen serves any resident of Rowan, including guests of the overnight shelter and Eagle’s Nest housing program.
Donations come from area restaurants, including Blue Bay, the Farmhouse, the Wrenn House, Uncle Buck’s, American Bar and Grill, DJ’s, Olive Garden, Texas Longhorn Steakhouse and Holiday Inn.
Scott expects the soup kitchen to continue to grow. With today’s economy, she says people who have donated or volunteered in the past are now having to ask for help.
“When you have a plant closing,” Scott says, “it affects a particular group of people, But when you have the total economic situation that we’re in now, it’s affecting everybody.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.