07/17/08 — Economic punch - Feeding Wayne County

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Economic punch - Feeding Wayne County

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on July 17, 2008 1:19 PM

Daryl Thomas always takes a cup of soup with him when he leaves the Community Soup Kitchen even though there is a sign on the wall prohibiting carry-outs.

He is a long-time customer -- and knows the volunteers who cook every day.

Soup Kitchen

News-Argus/Greg Sousa

Soup kitchen patrons Walter Marsh, left, Melvin Carr and Daryl Thomas have been coming to the Community Soup Kitchen for years. They say that within the last few months, they have seen more new faces and heard more stories about local residents who are struggling to make ends meet. Volunteers say donations are holding steady even with the increases.

They know that soup he takes home will be his dinner later.

The 48-year-old goes to the Soup Kitchen for lunch every day -- riding his bicycle to get there for the noon meal.

He is living with friends -- it has not been an easy life for him.

He takes care of the Soup Kitchen, too, like it is his own. He keeps an eye out for litter and keeps the area clean -- that is part of his giving back to those who make sure he has something to eat.

He is a regular, part of a group of people who make the stop every day.

But over the past six months, he has noticed more new faces.

It is a sign, he says, that there are more people struggling.

"This place is needed bad," he said. "They don't always have everything you want but if you're hungry, you'll eat it, whether it's something you like or not. Those who don't stay and eat (after finding out what is being served) are not hungry. They're coming for the conversation."

Soup Kitchen director Doricia Benton has seen the increases, too.

The average number of lunch guests used to be about 65, but now, she is seeing 90 people and more each day. The higher numbers have been coming over the past three months.

On Memorial Day, the Soup Kitchen broke its record for attendance with 150 people coming for lunch.

"That's a lot of folks," Mrs. Benton said. "And it's a lot of new faces."

She said she believes the increase in lunch guests is a result of the high gas prices and the economy's downturn.

"Yesterday, a lady drove up with her two children, I assume to save the money so she could put it in her gas tank," she said. "I ask no questions. Any of us could have to walk in that door."

Melvin Carr, 62, is a regular. His situation might not be as dire as some of those who make a stop for lunch. He is proud to say he comes for the friendship. He has been coming to the soup kitchen since before 2004 when it moved from St. Stephens Episcopal Church to its current location on West Oak Street.

"I'm always into something around here," he said. "I try to help here as I can when they ask me ... I just like to come by here for the company and the people."

Carr, who lives on South John Street, and 51-year-old Walter Marsh, who lives on Claiborne Street, are hearing more stories about tough times.

"Some of them are homeless, and some have been burned out of their home and have nobody to support them," Carr said. "They come here and maybe find some clothes and get a good hot meal."

Many of the people who were there for a meal for the first time weren't ready to talk about their situations -- it takes time to feel comfortable enough to talk, Mrs. Benton said.

Some who do talk say they can't find a job.

The Soup Kitchen helps them supplement cabinets at home that are not always full or even close to full.

And for others, there are no cabinets and no home.

They wait every day for the kitchen to open.

"I'm seeing a lot of people come in today who have not eaten since 11 a.m. yesterday," Mrs. Benton said.

The increase in the number of hungry lunch guests has not seemed to cause any shortage of food and supplies.

Within a 30-minute period during the slower part of the lunch hour Wednesday, three more people walked through the door loaded down with food donations.

Summer also brings fresh vegetables.

The hours that food is served at the Soup Kitchen are 11 a.m. until noon Monday through Saturday.

For regulars and newcomers, the Soup Kitchen is a place to count on when times are tough, Marsh said.

"Sometimes when you don't have something to eat, you come by for a meal that is hot, and if you see somebody in need, you bring them with you to help get them something to eat," he said.