Ministry’s mission is to leave no belly hungry
The ingredients are simple enough: some deli meat, cheese, mayo, bread as well as fruit and a sweet treat. And every Tuesday volunteers gather in the basement of Oak Grove United Methodist Church to do more than just assemble lunch for those in need of a good meal and with limited or no means of getting one. They share goodwill as well.
This is the Oak Grove Mobile Soup Kitchen, which started some 18 years ago after a pastor of the church witnessed a soup kitchen ministry in Cuba. At that time, Oak Grove United Methodist Church members drove a van from the Oak Grove neighborhood off LaVista Road to Juniper and 5th Street in Atlanta, where food was dispensed to the homeless and the hungry. People living and working in that community complained after a while, and the ministry ceased at that location. However it linked up with the Redeemer Lutheran Church at 4th and Peachtree streets in Atlanta and carried on its work, providing lunch one day a week to those in need.
Jane White, who helped make the meals back then, and today is the coordinator of the ministry, said the meal preparation and distribution go on rain or shine.
“We do this 50 weeks a year,” said White, noting that their ministry is only interrupted when the Redeemer closes its kitchen doors for cleaning.
On this Tuesday, some 14 volunteers are working on long stainless steel tables with 37 loaves of bread and plenty of meat, cheese, condiments and plastic sandwich bags.
Gay Denham has been at this for 18 years.
“I just jump into anything that’s going on,” said Denham.
She said what keeps her coming back is “when you see that many people lining up to get a sandwich once a week.”
Margo Steele is following the lead of her parents who’ve been involved in charitable work. The 15-year-old is helping to assemble sandwiches.
“I think it’s a good idea to give food to people that don’t have money to buy it and don’t have homes,” she said.
Lilyc Lau said her motivation is simple.
“To me it’s serving the Lord,” said Lau, adding she gets joy out of doing for others.
At 88, retiree Jim Gilland said he ran out of work to do for a paycheck but finds plenty that needs tending through the ministry. “We think it’s really worthwhile,” he said. “You like to feel you are doing something good before you go.”
He and his wife Claire make it a family routine and they rarely miss a week.
“I feel sorry for the people who depend on this, but they certainly do.”
Virginia Sowell is one of the five to six soup kitchen volunteers who pick up after the Tuesday volunteers are done. Each Wednesday Sowell and the others drive the lunches to Atlanta and serve those who are waiting for a meal.
Sowell said the funds to run the kitchen come from volunteer funding and special collections and are not a part of the church’s budget.
And Sowell said she’s noticed lately that more women and individuals who appear to have jobs are among the ranks of the 200 to 350 people showing up each week. It’s a sign of the times, she said.
“It’s a really great learning experience,” said Sowell. “We have a blast. We’ve gotten to know so many of these men. It does so much good. It’s a cool ministry.”