“God is here,” Cherryville resident Ronnie Powell told the Times-News on Thursday about his experience eating at Christian Ministry’s soup kitchen in Lincolnton over the past three years.
With the need for food great and the hungry crowd growing each day outside the kitchen, many might be tempted to think otherwise.
While soup kitchen officials typically feed an average of between 125 and 175 people per day, numbers on some recent days have risen to nearly 200.
Christian Ministry officials said they’re seeing more families and younger families take seats in the facility at lunchtime.
In response to the need for food and Christian Ministry’s dwindling pantry, John Curtis, operating partner with Fatz restaurant in Lincolnton, put on gloves and fell in beside other kitchen volunteers Thursday afternoon to cater to those in need. His cook Brad Bolick prepared the food that fed 175 people.
It’s the first time in Christian Ministry’s history that a local restaurant has flooded the kitchen with their own food in this way, helping to cook, bake and hand out plates.
Nonprofit officials hope it will be the start of a new trend with more local eateries following in Fatz’s footsteps.
The restaurant provided a bounty of chicken, baked potatoes, fruit, cookies and tea, among other food items. Curtis knew the time had come for him to give back to his community.
“It’s not about me anymore,” he said. “We have so many who are hungry.”
Curtis was not aware of how significant the need for food was until Fatz started providing the soup kitchen two months ago with all their daily leftover items.
“It made me very sad,” he said.
While local churches and grocery stores routinely donate food items to the nonprofit organization’s pantry, the need continues to grow, officials said.
“You can take a look at the shelves and see they are very low,” volunteer Patsy Smith said. Smith has been overseeing the kitchen in the last week while manager Jackie Casey has been on vacation. Smith’s duties have included praying outside with the lined up crowd of people before each meal.
Jean Johnson, Christian Ministry’s administrative assistant for the last 22 years, said the need for volunteers is also high and that the kitchen sees between two and 10 volunteers on any given day, some of whom are wheelchair bound or handicapped in other capacities.
Lincolnton resident Eames Saarinen, who donned an apron on Thursday and volunteers six days a week, has no doubt his assisting the soup kitchen this past year has affected his life.
“I’m a very positive person generally, but my entire outlook has changed,” he said.
Smith’s mother, Geraldine Tate, also visits the ministry to aid the kitchen a couple times each month.
“We do it for the Lord,” she said.
Despite two significant strokes over the last several years and doctors’ telling her she’ll soon need to live in a nursing home facility, Tate refuses to stop volunteering and spreading the love of her Christian faith.
“I love Jesus, and I just love these people,” she said. “I pray the Lord keeps me coming, and I’ll come as long as I’m able.”
Volunteer Rosemary Beer attends the soup kitchen each day to get know the people and pray for them.
“I go around to different tables,” she said. “That’s a ministry.”
Her son Fred Beer and his wife have eaten daily at the kitchen for the last decade, ever since his wife suffered a seizure and stopped working.
“My wife and I can’t make ends meet,” he said. “We’re borrowing enough to get buy.”
Hank Umphress, a Vietnam veteran, is another regular soup kitchen attendee. After fighting in a war and suffering a traumatic wreck earlier in his life, forcing medical officials to put his body back together with metal rods, Umphress knows he’s lucky to be alive.
He said he eats with other local faces so he can try to help them and get to know them better.
“I’m so thankful to be here,” he said. “Life is such a precious gift.”
Powell, a truck driver, is just as much appreciative of the volunteers and hands that craft his meals as he is of the food. He makes it his daily mission to thank the soup kitchen help.
“Food is better here than anywhere else,” he said. “It shows how much love is here.”
Christian Ministry’s soup kitchen, located at 207 S. Poplar Street in Lincolnton, is open daily 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The ministry is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.