Soup kitchen marks one year anniversary

October 25, 1997


Staff Writer

Nearly every Tuesday, Vernon Durham shows up at Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church's soup kitchen for a meal and some company.

"I'm really sorry to be in this position,'' Durham said. "But I'm glad this is here.''

Dinner the other six nights of the week is much less certain for Durham, a man in his mid 50s who came to the Hagerstown area several years ago and fell on hard times.

Durham was one of the 60-70 people who came to the kitchen last Tuesday, the average attendance for the church project which is now one year old.


"We had a high of 89 people one week,'' said Nancy Cook, one of the organizers of the kitchen in the basement of the church on North Potomac Street in Hagerstown.

The idea for the soup kitchen followed a year of soul-searching by a new women's group at the church, Cook said.

"It's going very well,'' Cook said.

The fact the numbers are climbing means the kitchen is certainly needed but at the same time, that means more work for the volunteers.

Last January, when the kitchen began operating weekly, the average attendance was 16. Often there were more volunteers than diners.

Those who attend start lining up at the rear of the church long before the 5:30 p.m. start time. Dinner is served until 7 p.m.

Last Tuesday, the menu included homemade chicken corn soup, egg salad sandwiches, four different kinds of homemade breads, cake and ice cream.

"Nancy Rider bakes the homemade bread,'' Cook said. "She even takes requests from some of the regulars for certain types of her breads.''

The soup is cooked upstairs in the church kitchen in huge quantities that are frozen and used from week to week, Cook said.

Coffee, lemonade, milk and water are provided to drink.

Anyone interested in donating time, food or both to the soup kitchen may contact Cook at 739-7244 or 745-4607.

"We get donations of money and we buy the ingredients and make the soup,'' Cook said.

That's better, and safer, than accepting donated soups and canned goods, she said.

"Sander's Cookie Jar gives us cookies and pastries,'' Cook said. "And we got a lot of food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, thanks to the Community Action Council.''

Citicorp is a big supporter, earmarking a portion of the proceeds from its upcoming employee cookbook to the kitchen, Cook said.

Some of the cost of the kitchen is still absorbed by Zion since the kitchen was developed as a mission project a year ago, Cook said.

Recycled newspapers and aluminum cans are accepted at the church every second Saturday from 9 to 10 a.m. to offset the cost.

The kitchen attracts lots of families who are down on their luck, men and women alone and some children, alone. Most wanted their privacy, shunning conversation.

"Some little children come in with smaller children in tow,'' Cook said.

While no questions are asked - of anyone - Cook admits she is concerned about the unaccompanied children who come.

Durham went back for seconds Tuesday as he talked about the new path his life is taking.

"I work for a temporary agency and I'm training to be a mechanic,'' Durham said. "Money is a little short right now so I come here.''

Mike Beasley is also a regular on Tuesday nights. A self-avowed street person, Beasley said he enjoys the fellowship almost as much as the food.

"I'm everywhere downtown,'' Beasley said when asked where he lived. "I come here because it helps out a little.''

Neither man likes to beg and they said they don't feel that way when they come to the Zion soup kitchen.

"I feel really welcome here,'' Durham said.

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