ST. GEORGE – A little before noon on Valentine’s Day, a man wearing a framed-backpack and camouflage pants joined a long line that extends out from the doorway of the community soup kitchen at Grace Episcopal Church.
In the kitchen, a team of about 10 volunteers prepare and serve breadcrumb-covered casseroles to guests. It’s warm and smells like baked chicken. Small sugar cookies, dolloped with red frosting and mini heart-shaped sprinkles, spread across cookie sheets. Surprisingly, no soup is available.
The community soup kitchen, operating under Dixie Care and Share’s nonprofit organization, expanded the number of serving days on Feb. 4 incorporating Tuesday to their Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule.
Soup Kitchen Director Jim Roberts said that they were able to add another day to their weekly schedule after the Utah Food Bank accepted their request for an increase in donations.
The greatest thing about being part of this service is how grateful people are after they eat a hot meal, Roberts said. “You know we have some homeless people who come in, but most of the people are working poor. Meaning they have a job but have to choose between paying the electricity bill and buying food. Sadly, food is usually the last on a list of basic necessities.”
“There is no requirement to eat,” Roberts said. “We do ask guests to sign in, so that we can track our numbers for the food bank.”
Grace Episcopal Church also partners with the Utah Food Bank as a location for distribution of 25 pound boxes of non-perishable food. Every second and last Friday each month nearly 90 boxes are distributed.
Since 2011, the soup kitchen has experienced very few cases of conflict, Roberts said.
“All our clients come from different backgrounds,” he said. “Some are dealing with emotional problems or have dealt with addiction but we have volunteers who are trained in social work and know how to calm down a situation. Any time you have guests who are homeless conflict is a factor because instability is a stress inducer.“
Food donations are provided by the Utah Food Bank, LDS bishop storehouse, and the community garden at Tonaquint Nature Center, Roberts said. Last year they were able to serve almost 16,000 meals for around $8,000.
The community soup kitchen receives a lot of support from the community, Roberts said. He said they can always take donations of paper plates, plastic forks and spoons because the soup kitchen does not have an industrial kitchen.
“One of the reasons I was drawn to this service is I believe there should be no starving people,” Roberts said. “Not today in America. We have two rules here, don’t talk politics and don’t talk religion.”
In 2011, the Grace Episcopal Church in St. George took over providing weekday meals for the impoverished and working poor. Up until just recently, teams from different churches worked together to cook a meal Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The only requirement to eat is to have an empty tummy.
Co-director Linda Parker started out as a volunteer with her husband and said she wanted to spend more time helping so she and her husband became directors.
“I think the greatest gift is working with like-hearted people. People who really have a passion for helping people who have less than they do,” Parker said. “People are so appreciative for a simple hot meal. They will track you down just to thank you.”
Parker also said that the great thing about the community soup kitchen is that it has become a place where all church groups come together and help the less fortunate.
The volunteers consist of 26 rotating teams that are from an assortment of religious backgrounds and other affiliations including but not limited to: Methodist, Grace Episcopal, Presbyterian, New Promise Lutheran, Knights of Columbus from the Catholic Church, LDS, Sun River Development, and the Walmart distribution center.
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