Tuesdays with Dora: Woman, 92, cooks many lunches at Raleigh soup kitchen

aweigl@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2013 

  • About Shepherd’s Table

    It is an independent nonprofit soup kitchen started in 1980 by members of Church of the Good Shepherd, an Episcopal church in downtown Raleigh. The soup kitchen is now a separate entity from the church but still occupies space on church property.

    The kitchen serves lunch 11 a.m.-noon weekdays. It serves about 78,000 meals a year.

    It is at 125 Hillsborough St., 919-831-2010, shepherds-table.org.

On a recent Tuesday morning, volunteers are busy pulling together what will become a lunch for more than 300 people at Raleigh’s Shepherd’s Table soup kitchen.

One volunteer is making 18 gallons of soup. Another is chopping shiitake mushrooms for gravy. Others are assembling pans of roast chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, desserts, rice and green beans. There in the thick of the kitchen action is Dora Gibbs.

Gibbs, 92, is likely the longest-serving and oldest regular volunteer at this downtown Raleigh soup kitchen. Gibbs has been helping cook the Tuesday lunch since 1995 and even recruited an 86-year-old friend to join her about seven years ago.

“When I grow up, I want to be like her,” said Ashley DeLappe, the nonprofit’s volunteer coordinator. “I hope I’m that spunky at 92 years old.”

Gibbs not only volunteers three Tuesdays a month but also helps raise money and organizes a food drive at her church to benefit the soup kitchen.

“You can’t ask for more,” DeLappe said. “It says a lot about her and her heart.”

Shortly after 9 a.m., Gibbs had already assembled a pan of hamburgers with onion gravy, one filled with roast chicken and another with green beans. Val Gentile, the volunteer crew leader, asked Gibbs to peel and slice cucumbers for a salad with sliced onions and a sour cream dressing.

“Will do,” Gibbs replied, clearing a space on one of the kitchen work tables to get started. Gibbs, wearing white tennis shoes and her own smock-like apron that she brought from home, and another volunteer quickly chop the cucumbers.

Gibbs grew up in Virginia and lived with her husband in the Chesapeake area, where she worked as a school librarian for 25 years. One of her three sons, Henry, lives in Cary, and so the couple retired to Holly Springs in 1994.

Gibbs has always been active. She helps out at her church, Westover United Methodist, in West Raleigh. She also sews with a group at a Holly Springs church making stuffed animals, hats and blankets for hospital patients.

Whenever Henry Gibbs meets someone who knows his mother, the response is often the same: “We love your mother. Whatever she gets involved in, she just puts her whole heart in it.”

Up until April, Gibbs worked three-hour shifts, three days a week, shelving books at the library in Holly Springs. This spring, after concerns about her blood pressure, her doctor told her to cut back.

“I’m trying to learn how to take it easy,” Gibbs said. “I don’t like it. I like to do something to help someone else.”

About seven years ago, Gibbs recruited her friend Nell Wilson to join her at the Shepherd’s Table on Tuesdays. Wilson had decided to give up her regular Tuesday bowling date with friends. “I’ve never been back to bowling,” Wilson said. “I’ve never regretted it.”

On that recent Tuesday morning, Gibbs picked up Wilson at her Raleigh home and then headed to the soup kitchen.

It’s Gibbs’ duty to make coffee for the volunteers who quickly begin assessing the food that has been donated by the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and how they will turn that into enough meat, pasta or rice, vegetables, salad, soup, dessert, fruit, sandwiches, pizza and drinks for hundreds of hungry people.

Gibbs floated around the kitchen, filling pans with meat or vegetables to go into the oven, making sure the buffet line had enough serving spoons. Wilson sat at a table and chopped mushrooms and onions.

When the doors opened at 11 a.m., Gibbs and Wilson were side-by-side on the buffet line. Gibbs served the meat and Wilson served the pasta or rice. Gibbs greeted several familiar faces. Many of the guests made a point to say hello to her and thank her and the other volunteers.

The hour went quickly. And soon enough, Gentile shouted, “They’re in the house,” signaling that the last person in line was now in the dining room. Once the last diner was served, Gibbs and other volunteers pulled the food off the buffet and started wrapping it up to put in the refrigerator.

Gibbs announced the final head count, tracked by the number of Styrofoam plates she used: “324 plus 1 bagged lunch.”

A short time later, Gibbs and Wilson, each carrying a single serving of leftover apple crisp, collected their purses. As they hit the door, Wilson called out to the other volunteers: “We’ll see you next week.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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