03/27/09 — Soup kitchen fills need as economy remains concern

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Soup kitchen fills need as economy remains concern

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 27, 2009 1:46 PM

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Brian McKown has been coming to the Community Soup Kitchen several months since he lost his job and his home. Soup kitchen officials say lunch guests are all ages, including children, and they come from all walks of life.

Community Soup Kitchen manager Doricia Benton sees new -- and sadder -- faces every day.

In fact, in 2008, she had almost 8,000 more empty plates to fill -- and 2009 is also looking like it might send the numbers even higher, incoming board chairman Greg O'Donoghue said.

The soup kitchen served 27,370 meals in 2008 compared to 19,481 in 2007. Attendance at the soup kitchen has been increasing since September, the volunteers say, with the 2008 average head count of 75 reaching around 100 now.

Ms. Benton said some of the new faces she sees are not unfamiliar. They are former lunch guests who managed to get back on their feet, only to find themselves victims of the struggling economy either because of unemployment or underemployment.

"I'm seeing more working class individuals come to save money on their lunch hour for whatever reason," she said. "I have several who eat here every day who are employed."

She is seeing more Hispanic guests and more families with children.

The entire crowd strikes her as more weary, more depressed.

"One woman said she didn't want to live. Like all of us, they're worried about what is going to happen down the road. I'm feeling it from them more than I ever have before," she said.

The line takes longer to serve, but the guests are patient, "more subdued."

Children go first, said Arden Lynn, a regular guest at the soup kitchen. He and other regulars take the new arrivals under their wings and show them the house rules. No fighting. No jumping line. Show respect.

"It's a beautiful place to be if you're hungry and homeless," he said.

Clifton Dickens came to Goldsboro from Baltimore for a better life, but didn't find it.

"I guess you might say I got trapped here," he said.

Dickens was homeless and jobless when he arrived, and he's still jobless. Living on Social Security Insurance, he has managed to find a home.

For Brian McKown, it's the other way around. He has to stay at the Salvation Army. But three weeks ago, he did find a job.

"I'm saving up to get my own place," he said. "I've been coming eight months now."

Lynn has also noticed more new lunchmates -- as well as the many volunteers giving their time to serve.

"The volunteers are beautiful," he said. "They can be somewhere else golfing or bowling. But they would rather come here and help. I think that's wonderful."

Volunteer help and money donations are still coming in steadily, O'Donoghue said. It's the contributions of food and supplies that fluctuate as the number of guests spikes to as many as 150 and then drops back down to 75 again.

"And when we have 95 to 100 every time we open up, we're needing more of everything -- cups and plates as well as food," he said.

"People just reach out. You don't have to twist somebody's arm," he said. "One week we may be short of cups and on the verge of purchasing more, and then somebody brings a whole box. It's almost magical. When things get short, somebody will show up from a Sunday school class or a Boy Scout troop, and all of a sudden, the problem goes away."

O'Donoghue will become chairman Monday during the organization's annual board meeting.

He served as president this year -- a rite of passage before taking on the chairman's role.

He will relinquish that title to the new president, Dr. Sean Hamilton, on Monday.

Chris Garrison will remain vice president.