Local News: Community Soup Kitchen: serving 150 (10/10/20)

Adella Miesner

This couple frequents the local soup kitchen on Tuesdays at the old Save-A-Lot parking lot on South Cannon Boulevard. Volunteers watch as they cross the busy intersection over toward Fisherman’s Park on the Duck River. While they have no way of knowing for sure, volunteers believe they’re serving several people […]

This couple frequents the local soup kitchen on Tuesdays at the old Save-A-Lot parking lot on South Cannon Boulevard. Volunteers watch as they cross the busy intersection over toward Fisherman’s Park on the Duck River. While they have no way of knowing for sure, volunteers believe they’re serving several people each Tuesday afternoon who are potentially homeless.

Photo by Kay Bartley

Shelbyville Community Soup Kitchen volunteers have seen on more than one occasion a man walking from the woods along the Duck River over to the old Save-A-Lot parking lot on South Cannon Boulevard, where they currently distribute food from 4 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Volunteers watch as the man waits, sometimes for more than an hour. He graciously accepts his food and quietly walks back into the woods. He told them recently that the eggs they gave him would work well on his two-burner stove.

With this picture etched in their minds, soup kitchen volunteers are concerned that there’s a needy population here being less served. Perhaps they’re homeless by choice or circumstance, volunteers said recently their job is not to judge but to make sure on Tuesdays people get fed; they literally have their hands full within this ministry.

An elderly couple frequents the food giveaway. After getting their food they head back toward Fisherman’s Park, across the busy intersection. Volunteers said they’ve observed on occasion the woman being lewd, possibly suffering from dementia. “Where do they live?” volunteers wonder, as yet another man walks into the same grove of trees.

“Perhaps we should gather some tarps, blankets, warmer clothing?” one volunteer said.

Volunteers have become acquainted with another man they believe may be homeless; he rides his bike to pick up food, all the while sharing tales of his checkered past. They believe there may be several of their men camped out near the river, especially one who begged for them to save him a plate as he has to walk from Tyson Foods on Tuesday afternoons.

There are many more such stories the volunteers share.

While the drive-through food line is currently first come, first served, volunteers recently received an unusual phone message at First United Methodist Church. The caller requested that a grandchild be able to pick up two meals for grandparents who are unable to get to the location because of their infirmities.

While volunteers like Kay Bartley have limited access to specifics surrounding any local homeless “camps,” they do believe SCSK is serving a lot of Shelbyville’s destitute. Whether they’re transients or from this community, they’re obviously, hungry.

While they would love to see their clientele’s circumstances change for the better, the volunteers said they see the bigger picture of how many are living hand-to-mouth. Two young women arrived right at the end of distribution hour, still, volunteers helped them.

“With these proofs, along with the fact that we always have a line formed far before we are ready to serve on Tuesdays, we know that SCSK is addressing needs within the community.”

Whether good or bad, SCSK volunteers have somewhat of a weekly bird’s eye view of these various life situations — many involving children — while standing at their tables near the Veterans Bridge on South Cannon Boulevard. The pandemic forced SCSK to move this spring from First United Methodist Church’s basement to the former grocery store, which they now own, due to a generous benefactor.

Having recently weighed potential virus risks with feeding the hungry, the volunteers made the choice to wear masks and gloves and adapt to their outdoor setting. It’s not unusual to see them in the summer sweating through face coverings and most recently, getting chilled from the unpredictable fall temperatures.

It’s currently all doable, said Bartley. Still, they can use a financial shot-in-the-arm during these critical times.

Because of recent food donations from groups like Went Off Truckin’ of Shelbyville and from a man they know only as “Jim of Unionville,” their ministry continues to be sustained week-to-week. Besides serving, volunteers do their own part, baking cookies and cupcakes-all recently decorated for fall and Halloween.

“We plan for about 150 people each week . . . 146 fed last week, Sept 29, and had four additional cars that arrived after all the food had been distributed,” said Bartley. 

Bartley said she’s observed since spring how most people have begun to arrive earlier and earlier for their food, mainly because they always have the potential to run out of supplies at the end. With no reservations required, the only rules volunteers have tried to establish is that meals are provided for only those who are actually present, as there is generally a limited supply of take-out meals. 

“Therefore, we have seen cars loaded down with eight to nine people sometimes, but it is necessary to try to be fair. Even with that, the numbers are never static week-to-week, so we either have a few leftovers or, heaven forbid, will be out of food by the time the last people arrive.”

Since the spring, the 501(c)(3) organization has operated its drive-by with the assistance of Tony Edwards, who has used his mobile cooking trailer and crew for meal preparation. While being inside might be more ideal this time of year, the volunteers know with the pandemic still looming, they don’t have a lot of choices in location right now.

“The weather is changing, but right now, still the only viable solution for feeding this population of folks is by remote means, so we will just wrap up a bit more,” said Bartley. “There are no specific plans to change this for the time being. With our time change (Daylight Savings Time) coming soon, some lighting has been purchased so that as it darkens, we can better see and have a measure of safety, but for now, we will remain at the Save-A-Lot parking lot.”

As stewards of community gifts, the current 10-member SCSK board and its volunteers said they seek to provide the best food possible through the most cost effective means. Although, the number of meals predicted weekly are based on the weeks prior, it is never a “perfectly-predictable number,” according to volunteers.

Noting their major fundraiser was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, Bartley said, “There are always uphill battles that are being fought, but we feel that we are doing the work God expects and equips us for in feeding his people. Even with fundraisers, the need for money will continue, no matter the feeding mode.”

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