A soup kitchen with a long tradition needs renovations and volunteers.
Shiloh Christian Church on Durham Street has been serving meals since 1976. They’re available every Tuesday through Thursday starting at 11 a.m.
Gwendolyn Williams, the soup kitchen’s coordinator since 2000, hopes to renovate the kitchen and dining room in the year ahead. For now, people are eating in another church building next door. Williams hopes to raise $30,000 to $40,000 to meet the building’s needs, which include a ramp for the handicapped.
The soup kitchen serves anywhere from 40 to 65 diners daily, and the needy can also take food home with them. Also, Williams oversees a food pantry where people can get groceries once a month, and the church offers classes in such health topics as blood pressure, hygiene and diabetes.
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Food for the soup kitchen comes from a food bank in Raleigh and from donors in the community. A thrift shop provides the needy with clothing while also raising money for the church’s charitable programs.
With the new year, the daily meals open with an optional Bible study. Williams’ father founded the church, and she said she is continuing his dream of outreach.
Elsie Gross, 66, of Smithfield eats lunch at the church every week. “I don’t think I could make it without their help,” she said.
Gross, who lives on a fixed income, said the church helps the needy in the community. “I think they do a good job,” she said.
But it’s more than food, Gross said. “(They) tell me about God and everything and how to give and help one another and love one another,” she said. “And I appreciate their help.”
Mary Howell, 64, a volunteer, said the soup kitchen and other church programs are available to people inside and outside the church’s East Smithfield neighborhood.
Howell, who grew up in the community, looked up to the church’s founders, who inspired her to volunteer. “I always admired them,” she said. “They’ve always been people who reached out to the community.”
The best part about volunteering is working with people, Howell said. “That’s what inspires me most,” she said. “Meeting people, listening to their problems.”
Williams said the volunteers do more than serve food; they also connect the needy to other resources.
In the soup kitchen, Williams said, she tries to get people food they like; if a diner doesn’t like what’s on the menu, she tries to find a substitute.
In addition to money for renovations, Williams welcomes donations of food, toiletries and in-kind contributions, such as replacing a floor or repairing a wall.
Roy Watson, 45, of Smithfield said the free food helps him make ends meet.
Rachel Reed, 43, of Selma, said she comes not just for the food. “I love to socialize and meet people,” she said.
Kenneth Matthews, the elder at Shiloh Christian, said service is the focus of the church’s ministry. “It is a labor of love,” he said. “This is the mission of this fellowship.”
For Sylvie Sanders, 43, of Smithfield, the food helps feed her children. Food stamps aren’t always enough; Sanders eats lunch at the church and then uses her groceries for her five children. Otherwise, she would likely just eat bread.
“It’s a blessing,” she said.