Helping those in need
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on November 21, 2011 1:46 PM
Doricia Benton, director of the Community Soup Kitchen, checks the turkeys baking in the soup kitchen's oven. Ms. Benton has seen an increase in people in need this year and expects to serve as many as 150 people on Thanksgiving Day.
Lorene Beamon, cook at the Community Crisis Center in Goldsboro, prepares a box of staples that will be handed out to some families this holiday season.
For some Wayne County families, this Thanksgiving will be a time of want and not a day of plenty, local volunteers say.
And that number is expected to be higher than usual -- as it has been all year long, said Doricia Benton, director of the Community Soup Kitchen.
"We've seen more people coming to the Soup Kitchen throughout the year this year," she said. "We're estimating that we will have served 35,000 to 40,000 meals by the end of the year, compared to 33,000 last year.
"There are a lot of new faces, and also a lot of children. And there are a lot of Hispanic families coming, some from as far away as Duplin County. People have just suffered at all different levels."
The Soup Kitchen, along with the Bear Creek Missionary Baptist Association's Outreach Ministry and the Community Crisis Center, are among the groups making sure needy families can find a meal this Thanksgiving -- and beyond.
The Soup Kitchen will serve Thanksgiving dinner Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon Thanksgiving Day. The menu will include turkey, ham, collards, rice, yams and dessert, all donated by people and groups in the community.
Mrs. Benton said those who come to the Soup Kitchen are there for many reasons -- some are homeless, some are living in their cars with their children, some have lost their job and can't feed themselves and their families, some are just having trouble making ends meet in today's economy.
"You can see the struggles and stress on their faces," she said. "Sometimes they come in angry, but you don't know what's happened to them that morning. They could have been kicked out of their home. There's a lot of abuse with these people, verbally and physically.
"I can't help a lot of what's going on outside the Soup Kitchen, but I can control what's going on in here. And I want the atmosphere to be pleasant during the time they are here, especially on Thanksgiving Day. Then they go out with a smile on their face."
Mrs. Benton said it is amazing how much good having somewhere to come for Thanksgiving does for those who are struggling.
"We're here to give somebody an opportunity for a better life, even if it's just for that Thanksgiving meal," she said. "I've had people tell me they don't know what they would have done for a meal if the Soup Kitchen wasn't here."
Each Thanksgiving, Mrs. Benton hopes the number of people coming to the Soup Kitchen for Thanksgiving will be low, that maybe family or friends have included some of the needy families in their holiday meal.
But she knows the harsh reality -- if the Soup Kitchen wasn't serving the meal, a lot of them would be eating out of the dumpster and trash cans.
"Nobody should go hungry," she said. "It makes me realize how blessed I am."
Bear Creek will serve a Thanksgiving meal Wednesday at noon at its headquarters building on South Slocumb Street.
It will be a feast of turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, rice, dressing, string beans, dessert and drinks, all donated by local churches and people in the community.
The Rev. Marshall K. Thompson, who oversees the project, said the group has served about 250 Thanksgiving meals a year for the past eight years. But he expects that number to be closer to 300 this year, due to the slow economy.
"If we didn't serve a Thanksgiving meal, these people would probably eat something, but not a traditional holiday meal, maybe a can of beans or something," Thompson said. "We open our doors to the less fortunate or anyone who wants to sit down and have a meal. We do it because we love helping people. We don't ever know when it's going to be reversed on us."
Volunteers even go out into the community and take those without a ride to the building to eat.
And while some are eating there, volunteers are busy preparing meals to deliver to retirement homes and even Kitty Askins Hospice Center.
"We love doing this," Thompson said. "It makes people who come appreciate God.
"We've had children come, and it gives us the opportunity to minister to them. Some of these children can't sleep at night because they live in certain areas where there are gunshots. We pray with them."
The group's members don't judge anyone who comes through their doors.
"God gave me a commandment to feed those who are hungry," Thompson said. "I'm going to do what God instructed me to do. Those who come have to deal with God. I'm not there to judge them."
The Community Crisis Center staff and volunteers see the same worry and stress on the faces of those who come to them for help.
"This is a time of thanksgiving and we don't want people to go hungry," secretary Carolyn Buffalo said. "So we share what we have been blessed with."
The group has been serving Thanksgiving meals for 27 years. However, due to the slow economy, this year's operation had to be trimmed down a bit. The group will still serve meals on Thanksgiving Day from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., but it won't be delivering meals to the elderly and those who are incapacitated who can't get to the center.
"Meals are prepared from items donated to the center," Ms. Buffalo said. "This year our donations have decreased. With the slow economy, more people in the community, instead of donating food items, now need the services of the center. And that's what we've been facing all year long."
In addition to preparing and serving meals at the center on Thanksgiving Day, volunteers and staff will also prepare baskets to give out to the needy Wednesday. But how many they will be able to give out depends entirely on how much food is donated. In past years, baskets have contained a turkey, rice, canned vegetables, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.
"Hopefully we'll be able to meet the needs of quite a few people," Ms. Buffalo said.
For Thanksgiving, the Community Crisis Center has served between 75 and 100 people, the numbers increasing a little each year.
"We are expecting quite a few more this year," Ms. Buffalo said.
"By serving a Thanksgiving meal, we try to remove some of the anxiety and depression that comes with not being able to support or feed your family. We're trying to take up the slack and let people have a peaceful day on Thanksgiving and bring a little joy to people's lives just for that one day."