Rich aromas spill outside of Heavenly Made Soup Kitchen twice a month
Volunteers have a blessing before serving food at the Heavenly Made Soup Kitchen in the First Church of God and Saints of Christ Sunday in Hagerstown. (By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer / December 15, 2012)
A woman holds her young son, an elderly man stands alone and a middle-aged couple huddles close together, guarding against the raw December air.
The doors will open at 4:30 p.m., but people have started arriving well in advance, not for church services or a music program, but for the most basic of needs — an opportunity to eat a hot, homecooked meal.
On this particular Sunday, the rich aromas of chicken and rice, steamers and vegetables spill outside.
It brings a smile to the face of the little boy, who tenderly places a kiss on his mother’s cheek.
“It smells good, Mommy,” he says, almost in a whisper.
Hagerstown has a checkerboard of free food programs Monday through Friday. But the First Church of God and Saints of Christ Church at 100 S. Mulberry St. offers something different. It serves meals twice a month on Sunday.
It’s the Heavenly Made Soup Kitchen and as far as organizers know, it’s the only place in town where those in need of food can enjoy a meal on the weekend.
This month marks the second anniversary of the soup kitchen, which started because of tough economic times, Director Tamar Guy said.
“A lot of people are struggling to get by,” she said. “So when the church began talking about offering a soup kitchen, I jumped right in and started helping out.”
A graduate of Penn State University, where she majored in hotel, restaurant and institutional management, Guy said volunteering for the community project is a perfect fit.
“I know about nutrition, portions, even food allergies,” she said. “I also know the importance of having a homecooked meal, not something out of a can. So everything that we serve is made from scratch. We always cook freshly made.”
Although the soup kitchen brings in people who often don’t know where their next meal will come from, Guy said there are no restrictions on who is served.
“We welcome everybody and anybody, whether you have a job or not,” she said. “Some people join us who simply don’t like to cook and know they’ll get a good meal here.”
On average, Guy said, the soup kitchen serves about 25 to 50 people on each of the two Sundays it’s offered.
“The highest number of people was on Easter Sunday of 2011, when we hit 75,” she said.
Although the soup kitchen has been open for two years, Guy said she believes many people aren’t aware that it exists.
“I’m currently working with the Washington County Council of Churches about spreading the word that we’re here,” she said. “I’m also starting to get in touch with local agencies and we’ve been distributing fliers throughout the community. We really haven’t done any formal advertising. It’s mostly been word of mouth.”
“We’re blessed to have a facility to do this,” said Pastor Mark Guy, Tamar’s father. “The decision to help those in our community was an easy one for us to make.”
Pastor Guy said the soup kitchen operates totally on volunteerism.
“The people who prepare the meals volunteer their time and talents. The people who serve the food are volunteers. And all of the money used to buy the food comes solely from the volunteers,” he said.
“We do get doughnuts and bread from The Cookie Jar in Hagerstown,” Tamar Guy said. “But we pay for everything else out of our own pockets.”
When planning the menu, she said, “we decide who will buy certain food items and who will prepare them.”
Volunteers always hope to have enough food to last until closing time, which is 6:30 p.m. But often, everything goes quickly.
All are welcome
“Some people will sit around hoping to get seconds,” she said. “I wish we had more than enough to give to everyone. But we’re limited, monetarily, in how much we can offer. It’s hard to turn people away.”
While there always is someone new who walks through the doors of the soup kitchen each month, Guy said many of the people have become regulars.
“We sit and talk with them and get to know them a bit,” she said. “We might not always know their names. But we know their faces. One couple’s son was thinking of dropping out of school, so I talked with him and told him it wasn’t a good thing to do.”
Pastor Guy said there is no pressure to attend church services.
“If you want a meal, that’s all that’s involved. It’s free and open to anyone,” he said.
“People really do appreciate these meals,” Tamar Guy said. “They tell me all the time how thankful they are. Sometimes, it’s hard for people to ask for food. Once, there was a woman who wouldn’t come in with her husband because she was embarrassed. But we talked with him and, after a while, he was able to convince his wife to join us.”
Food and conversation
Helping out in the kitchen on a recent Sunday was Beverly Okoro, a church trustee of Jamaican descent who sometimes adds a little spice to the menu.
“I offer my own flair to foods,” she said. “For instance, everyone loves when I make my curried chicken. One time, we ran out and people said they wouldn’t leave until I fixed another batch.”
Carol Haggerty of Boonsboro has been volunteering at the soup kitchen since its first year. Her children also have helped out.
“Sometimes, kids take too much for granted,” she said. “I think it’s important for them to see that some people don’t have it as good.”
Haggerty said volunteering at the soup kitchen “makes you feel good.”
But she’s also made a lot of friends.
“The volunteers have become like family,” she said, noting she spent Thanksgiving with the Guys.
Edna Bigler of Hagerstown said she and her family regularly attend the Sunday evening meals at the First Church of God and Saints of Christ Church.
“We heard good things about this place when it started and we’ve been here ever since,” she said. “The food is good and everybody is so nice and courteous. We appreciate all of the hard work they do here. You can tell the women take a lot of pride in what they make.”
Guy said the soup kitchen will be open next on Sunday, Dec. 23, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. for a holiday meal.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the soup kitchen or volunteer may call the church at 301-778-3053 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org