For the past 13 years, Loaves and Fishes Community Soup Kitchen has seen many people — an average of about 150 on weekdays — walk through its doors.
Some are homeless. Others are poets and piano players, happy to share their gifts with the volunteers and those enjoying their meals. There are some who come in their work scrubs and factory uniforms, hoping to use what they would have spent on a restaurant lunch for other necessities.
All are greeted with a smile and a friendly hello at the kitchen at 223 22nd St. North, which went from serving sit-down, hot lunches to serving take-out, bagged lunches due to the pandemic.
“We provide a wonderful service for the people,” said Nancy Smith, one of the nonprofit’s co-founders. “It is a great atmosphere where you learn to know the people. One thing we didn’t want to do is just say, ‘Here’s something to eat.’ We want to hear their stories. (The volunteers) want to know something about (those being served) and if there are other ways that we could benefit them.”
Loaves and Fishes eighth-annual fundraiser, a takeout dinner, will be held from 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the First United Methodist Church, College Street drive-thru.
Volunteer Frank Kinder said only 400 tickets are available. Tickets, which cost $15 each, must be purchased in advance. They are given to servers in exchange for the meal. Tickets can be purchased at Annunciation Catholic Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First United Methodist Church in Columbus.
The tickets are good for either a 5-6 p.m. or 6-7 p.m. serving, which is specified on the ticket Smith said. The two servings help reduce the line at the drive-thru and help in preparation purposes.
The meals, prepared by the First UMC Men’s Group, will consist of pork loin, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, cornbread and dessert. Various organizations that work with Loaves and Fishes are donating dessert.
Delivery is available in the Columbus area by calling (662) 425-6408. It is made possible by Heritage Academy seniors, Kinder said. Tips will benefit their class project.
The soup kitchen relies on donations and volunteers to operate, Smith said. Currently, 21 churches and other organizations help serve meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Besides paying their only staff member, a person who cleans the facility, the 501(3)(c) nonprofit uses donated funds to buy supplies and to pay bills associated with renting its space and running the soup kitchen.
“It takes multiple, multiple dollars to provide what we do,” Smith said. “When people come through our doors, they know they’re getting our services from a safe and clean location.”
As of the end of September, 19,000 meals have been served so far this year, Smith said. They served an average of 25,000 meals before the pandemic and she estimates they are on track to do that again this year.
In the past, volunteers served about 10 hot meals per table at the soup kitchen facility. The service gave volunteers a chance to get to know those they served, Smith said. Now that they serve takeout, bagged lunches, the commitment to being more than a place to get food hasn’t changed.
“We still have communication with them and we still offer a smile and ask ‘How’s your day,’” she continued “So it’s not like just pick up something and walk away.”
Several organizations have expressed an interest in cooking hot meals again. So the soup kitchen got divider plates to serve them and is working on getting hot meals back on the menu.
Wednesdays are soup days. Smith noted that Loaves and Fishes needs Bear Creek mixes which it uses as a base for its large soup batches. Donations of the mix can be dropped off at St. Paul’s, First UMC or Annunciation Catholic Church.
While Loaves and Fishes accepts donations, Smith said she often finds people get more out of the nonprofit through volunteering.
“It’s an ecumenical group, you know?” she said. “… Everybody is really pitching in to make it make a difference.
“If they don’t want to deal with the food, they’ll write a check. … You know what we’ve noticed?” she continued. “I have felt through the years that people sometimes are willing to write a check or something, but they get more out of it when they participate and become a part of the group and really care about what they are doing.
“They say, ‘Oh my gosh, this was really great. I really enjoyed this experience.’”