When 72-year-old Paul Bryant walked through the doors of the Community Soup Kitchen Thursday shortly after 11:30 a.m., he had no idea just how special the day would become. Bryant was the one millionth person served at the Soup Kitchen since it opened its doors Dec. 15, 1980.
With that honor came a a huge basket of goodies tied with several big green balloons for Bryant to take home.
It was just an ordinary day for Bryant before he stepped up to the serving line at the Soup Kitchen after 99 other people had already gotten a meal.
"I've been coming to the soup kitchen for years and years," he said. "I come for the food and the fellowship."
If not for the Soup Kitchen, Bryant would have to find food elsewhere.
"I think the Soup Kitchen is a blessing from the Lord," he said. "He's using these hands here as his hands. He said the poor we'll have with us always. He's making provisions for them."
Soup Kitchen director Doricia Benton said Bryant was overwhelmed when she told him he was the one millionth meal.
The Soup Kitchen had its beginnings at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church when some of the congregation of noticed homeless men living in crates and boxes downtown. They began getting the men take-out from a nearby fast food restaurant, Mrs. Benton said.
"They took the idea of a Soup Kitchen back to the church," she said. "The church gave them three months to show that a Soup Kitchen was worthy. Now it's going on 37 years. I guess they proved it was needed."
Its first director was Barbara Berkeley. Mrs. Benton volunteered at the church's Soup Kitchen for 10 years, then became its director 14 years ago.
In 2003, the St. Stephen's Soup Kitchen was renamed the Community Soup Kitchen of Goldsboro, and moved to its current location on West Oak Street.
Since its inception, the Soup Kitchen has been supported by community -- churches, youth groups, businesses, civic organizations and individuals. They give monetary donations and donations of paper products, food, clothing, hygiene products and books. And they also give of themselves by volunteering at the Soup Kitchen, which serves a hot meal Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon.
It's just been in recent years that the Soup Kitchen began holding an annual fundraiser.
Mrs. Benton calls those who go to the Soup Kitchen her "friends."
"We shouldn't put people in a category because we don't know the pain they're feeling and why they're feeling it," she said. "It's a matter of treating them like human beings.
"One lady who came here for several years, I didn't know until she passed away that she had lost a child about 12 years earlier. A friend of hers told me that the woman could not deal with it and progressed to trying to forget with alcohol, and it got her. Sometimes people looked at her and said she was just an alcoholic, but they didn't see the reason behind it.
"Don't put anybody in a category because everyone has an individual reason why they are here on the day they are here."
Mrs. Benton said during the hour her friends are at the Soup Kitchen, she's there just for them -- to give them a hot meal, for conversation, to mend an injury sometimes and sometimes even to mend holes in their clothing for them.
She said those she sees at the Soup Kitchen are the homeless, the poor, the working poor and just people in need. They are individuals, married couples, single mothers with children and even grandmothers with their grandchildren.
But it's more than just a hot meal six days a week.
"One grandmother who comes with her grandchildren because the mother is not with them right now, told me the children call this their safe place," Mrs. Benton said. "They want to come here because they feel safe. Another mother told me her daughter calls this her safe place, too."