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Their daily bread

November 30, 1996

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

Donna Bowers hoses off the potatoes donated to the Salvation Army by a farmer as she starts to prepare lunch.

It is 9:30 a.m., but she does not know how many people will be coming for the Salvation Army's Midday Manna.

Most of the meals are made from donated items. Supermarkets give day-old breads and baked goods. Hunters occasionally drop off venison. Farmers give produce and an occasional steer.

"Whenever I think, `What am I going to do? I don't have this, I don't have that,' then a donation comes in," says Bowers, the Salvation Army's cook for the daily meal. "It all works out. No matter how you think it doesn't, it all comes together. You just don't get excited."

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She and a group of volunteers help feed about 100 people daily who come into the Salvation Army's soup kitchen, located behind the office on West Franklin Street, for the lunch served Monday through Friday between 11:30 a.m. and 12:50 p.m.

While the holiday season is probably the time of year when the Salvation Army is the most visible to the community, to the hungry the Salvation Army is a part of their daily bread.

10 a.m.

Today's menu is leftover turkey on gravy bread, served with French fries and a piece of cake.

Bowers cuts the potatoes steadily, talking cheerfully as she works. She's not sure how many pounds of potatoes she's cutting up. She knows from experience about how many will be needed.

However, when she finishes she plans to have a kettle of water ready to make instant mashed potatoes in case she runs out of French fries.

There's plenty of turkey left over from Thanksgiving and she doesn't expect it to run out.

"We try to stretch everything," she says.

On the occasions when she does run out, she turns to the cans of Spam she keeps stockpiled to make into sandwiches. Sometimes she has to resort to passing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but those days are rare.

"We don't serve nothing we wouldn't eat ourselves," Bowers says. "We put almost anything to use that comes in."

Recently, leftovers from a banquet at the Career Studies Center led to alligator meat with noodles being served.

"I fixed a vegetable with it and people ate it," she said.

It is hard to judge how many people will come for lunch. Today she's not expecting as many since it is the same day when Social Security Insurance checks are delivered.

Usually there are more people near the end of the month when food stamps and other government benefits tend to run out for many of the recipients.

Bowers has been a cook at the Salvation Army for eight years. The program started about six months before she started working there. Previously, she worked in the kitchen at Washington County Hospital.

In addition to the lunch, those who come today will be able to take home one pie, cake or package of cookies, two packages of muffins, and up to six loaves of bread, she says.

As Bowers makes lunch, volunteers Georgia Martin and Elsie Thomas stack up the pies and breads on tables. The volunteers are a fixture at the soup kitchen.

"Georgie's my right hand," Bowers says. "I depend on her for everything. But she won't cook. She stays out of the pots and pans.

10:28 a.m.

There are five people lined up outside already. On some days, the line will stretch around the corner of the soup kitchen.

The soup kitchen is a sparse affair. A walk-in freezer. Large ovens and stove top. Industrial-style sinks.

The room is lined with long tables and chairs. Walls are covered with bulletin boards, some announcing meetings, others keeping attendance of the various committees and advisory boards run by the Salvation Army.

An undecorated Christmas tree stands at one end of the hall near the tables covered with loaves of bread.

11 a.m.

Judy Files starts cutting donated cakes, trying to get 12 slices out of each.

She works for the Salvation Army's emergency housing shelter, but she volunteers to help the soup kitchen.

Files has been at the Salvation Army about six years.

"I like to work with the community," Files says.

"This is my way of getting out of the house," says volunteer Barb Fitzgerald. "I guess I enjoy helping people and I love to be around people."

Those who work at the soup kitchen see all types of people. There's one man who comes in nearly every day who sleeps in an abandoned building. An elderly woman walks in from North Colonial Drive to eat lunch. Her husband died, leaving her without companionship or transportation. The lunch provides her with people to socialize with as well as food.

There was another man who came in regularly who slept in the woods. He always smelled of campfire smoke, they say.

He stopped coming in about a year ago and they wonder what happened to him.

11:30 a.m.

Martin calls out to Bowers that it is time to open the door. Today it is Bowers' turn to "check" the people in.

She sits at a table and pulls out an index card with the person's name on it. If it is a new person, she makes up a card with the person's name and social security number on it.

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