Week 19, Day 2: A SOUP-er Opportunity

Another up and at ‘em day with Volunteer Odyssey! By 7:30 am, I found myself getting a crash course in Soup Kitchen 101 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Soup Kitchen by the kitchen manager, Ron, his assistant, Martin, and a volunteer, Lynn.

20140605_St_Mary_01Lynn is a champion sandwich maker.

This experience takes me back to Kansas where I worked at an agency that ran three homeless shelters. While most of my work involved coordinating volunteers, organizing fundraisers, and writing grants, I became interested in the shelters’ mission and occasionally stopped by for lunch and conversation.  I have many fond memories of soup lunches there, and looked forward to my time at St. Mary’s.

At St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, the “soup” part is not in name only. In fact, it might be most known for its homemade soup, which is made daily by Ron and Martin. While some of the kitchen’s ingredients come from the Mid-South Food Bank, many come from donations from individuals, families, and organizations. Every man or woman who comes through the kitchen’s gate receives a cup of soup, two sandwiches, and a snack. Pastries and beverages are also on hand.

20140605_St_Mary_02The Soup Tower grows

While the actual cooking kitchen runs in the next room, the dining room operates out of what was rumored to once have been a loading dock. The narrow room has a row of picnic tables, each covered with plastic tablecloths and vases of fabric flowers. Having been told that the kitchen would be serving around 120 people, I expected it to be a tight squeeze, and was surprised by how efficiently everything ran.

Thursday’s volunteers are stretched a little thin, so my three years of making sandwiches in college served me well as I bagged ham, salami, and bologna sandwiches and chatted with Lynn, who shared a little bit about the kitchen’s history and a little bit about her life.

Next Martin showed me the delicate art of soup ladling and cup stacking. There is something terribly terrifying about stacking cup after cup of hot soup to create Memphis’ very own Leaning Tower of Soup. Martin swore that I’d still be welcomed back even if I did dump all the soup, but I didn’t want to risk it. Luckily, due to Martin’s vigilant eye, the tower never toppled.

20140605_Day2Kat with untoppled soup. Thanks Martin!

Having had a little bit of exposure to homeless programs back in Kansas, I always find it interesting to learn how other programs operate. All programs have similarities, but the large one might be the community that makes these programs tick. A program can have the best rules, mission, and structure, but the real strength behind it is its community bond.

20140605_St_Mary_03Preparing to pray before handing out food.

The soup kitchen’s guests, staff, and volunteers all have different backgrounds, different personalities, and, at times, different beliefs, but six days a week they come together to form this community. I believe that the interactions of its staff, volunteers and guests – the kindness, appreciation, and respect they share with one another – is always what’s going to hold a program together.

Thank you for reading! Like what you read? Kat Franchino is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. She will happily take on any writing challenges. Contact her at katfranchino@yahoo.com or jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.

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