“It’s a restaurant for Jesus,” Christian Ministry’s Soup Kitchen Coordinator Jackie Casey told the Times-News on Wednesday.
She and other local volunteers rushed around the Lincolnton facility cooking and plating food for the nonprofit organization’s annual Thanksgiving meal, which they served again on Thursday.
“It brings people together,” volunteer Emes Saarinen said of the soup kitchen’s first winter holiday meal.
Casey volunteered two years at the soup kitchen before joining part-time staff two years ago. Her heart lies with the more than 150 individuals who daily shuffle in and out of the kitchen, talking and praying with people in need of fellowship and a warm meal.
“It’s front-line ministry work,” she said. “No matter what’s going on in their lives, they can know someone’s kind enough to cook a meal for them.”
Lincolnton couple Daniel and Teresa Hill, who embraced Wednesday as they stood in the long line of hungry people scattered along the facility’s sidewalk, met at the soup kitchen in January, only to tie the knot four months later.
They each wore a smile and maintained a positive outlook on life, disguising their current health and financial struggles. Health problems have kept them from working, and Daniel has additionally been battling colon cancer, which has since spread to a kidney.
“I hope before I pass away my wife has everything she needs,” he said.
As far as the newlywed is concerned, his Christmas gift this year is his wife.
Homer Baumgardner, 21, of Lincolnton, shares the couple’s distress. Mohican Mills, a local fabrics manufacturer recently laid him off, he said.
He’s always grateful for free soup kitchen meals to curb his hunger and keep his diet healthy.
“It’s a steady source of nutrition; it’ll keep a man from starving,” he said.
For times when he’s without a particular necessity, he knows Christian Ministry will provide.
“If you ever need anything — like if your shoes are falling off your feet — they’ll give you some,” Homer said. “If you absolutely need anything, they’ll give it to you.”
Lloyd Stroupe, also of Lincolnton, frequents the soup kitchen a few times a week.
“I don’t know what I’d do without it,” he said. “I’m broke, but I got enough gas to get here.”
He praised volunteers and staff, particularly Casey, for daily blessing the community.
“You can see her (Casey) glow when she sees everyone lined up and all the food donated,” Stroupe said.
Jessica Lemmons, Lincolnton resident and mother of three, walks almost daily to the soup kitchen with friends and a number of children, some of whom she babysits.
Staff at Amy’s House, a local women’s shelter, told her about the free Christian Ministry service, for which she couldn’t be more thankful.
“They’re a blessing to us,” she said of volunteers and staff.
Local schools, churches and other individuals in the community regularly donate to Christian Ministry, but with families’ requests for assistance piling up faster than donations, the supply of pantry items is at an all-time low — bad news for the organization’s busiest time of the year.
Christmas Ministry officials hope the annual Christmas Fund, which kicked off earlier this month, will bring in enough money to purchase toys, food and other items for needy families. Current donations total more than $23,000, nearly half of the organization’s target goal of $50,000, an amount the community nearly doubled in donations last year.
Christian Ministry is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on S. Poplar Street in Lincolnton. The soup kitchen operates 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily, holidays included.