The Loaves and Fishes Community Soup Kitchen in Columbus served 18,183 meals in 2014. Volunteers at the heart of the nonprofit ministry expect that number to be even higher this year. The second annual Loaves and Fishes “Festival of Flavors” gala Friday, May 29 will go a long way toward continuing, even broadening, the ecumenical effort to feed the hungry of Lowndes County.
Hors d’ouevres, beverages, live music and a silent auction are part of the event starting at 6 p.m. at the Lion Hills Center, 2331 Military Road in Columbus. Tickets are $40 ($25 tax deductible), available now at Military Hardware and several local churches.
The gala is Loaves and Fishes’ major fundraiser, expected to generate basic annual operating funds for costs such as rent and kitchen supplies.
Joyce Hunt and Fred Kinder chair the auction.
“We expect to have 100 to 120 items, in a wide variety and a good range of prices to meet all different tastes,” said Hunt Wednesday. A sampling up bid items includes everything from homemade cakes to spa treatments, swimming lessons, a fish cooker and custom jewelry.
The event is also a reminder of good things the community does, Hunt added. “We have so many people who want to make a difference.”
An active network of volunteers from churches, banks, businesses, clubs and other sources has allowed the kitchen to increase the number of days per week it is open at 223 22nd St. N.
The Rev. Anne Russell Bradley serves as president of the board of directors. Ann Sparkman is event chair and board vice president.
“Since last August, we’ve gone from (being open) Mondays and Fridays and one Thursday per month, to Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays — plus we have almost all our Thursdays filled (with volunteers),” said Sparkman. “Our eventual goal is to be serving every day, Monday through Friday.” Serving hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
While full meals are served on other days, Wednesdays feature hearty soups. Most of it is made from packages of Bear Creek Country Kitchens soup donated by supporters.
“We want everybody to get involved,” encouraged Sparkman. “Sunday School children can collect packages of soup, Girl Scout troops, garden clubs … a grade at Heritage Academy did it.”
One package makes enough soup to feed eight people. Actually purchasing the package and realizing they are feeding eight individuals can have more impact on someone, especially young people, than donating cash, Sparkman stressed.
Groups, families or individuals who want to donate soup are asked to purchase the Bear Creek chicken noodle, chili, potato, tortilla or vegetable beef flavors. Large No. 10 cans of mixed vegetables or chili beans to add to the soups are also welcome. Donations may be dropped off at Helping Hands, 223 22nd St. N.
Volunteer opportunities like Soup Wednesdays — that don’t require purchasing and preparing a full meal — and developing volunteer partnerships have given smaller groups more chances to serve.
The Rev. Jonathan Spiegel, a board member and pastor of Covenant United Methodist Church, said, “We need other churches and groups to help; we have volunteers who want to participate, but they need partners.”
The need, he said, is great.
“And in summer, our numbers go way up; we have a lot of kids that normally eat at school but don’t have school lunches during summer months.”
A common misconception about soup kitchens is that those who need a meal don’t have a job and are living on the street, Sparkman said.
“Anyone can experience hunger … and anyone can be mentally or emotionally hungry,” she explained, noting the need for companionship she witnesses from some who come through the doors.
Attending the May 29 fundraiser is one way to help those doors stay open.
Spiegel said, “Not only do we need people who will buy a ticket, come to the gala, buy one of the many things in the silent auction and have a good time, but we hope people will also think about how they can get their hands in the nitty gritty and serve others.”
Tax deductible donations to the Loaves and Fishes Community Soup Kitchen may be sent to P.O. Box 441, Columbus, MS 39703.
For more information, call 662-549-8607.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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