Lebanon Soup Kitchen celebrates 30 years – with cake feed

The Lebanon Soup Kitchen celebrated its 30th anniversary June 7 with balloons, cake, and live piano entertainment for its guests.

The soup kitchen began in 1989 when members of First Christian Church wanted to involve their youth group in a community activity, said Nancey West, one of the soup kitchen founders. They chose to do a free community meal, but the plan never materialized.

Beside that, one thought kept nagging at her.

“I kept thinking, ‘If we’re going to feed these people, once a year is not adequate.’”

During the same period of time, Marcy Huntsinger placed a Letter to the Editor in the local newspaper looking for a church “with heart and kitchen big enough to serve 35 people,” West said. She was a volunteer at the soup kitchen in Albany and noticed many guests there were from Lebanon.

West’s husband met with Hunt-singer, but the two decided the project was too big to take on alone, West said. A community meeting took place to gauge support, and the turnout was standing-room-only.

“There were so many people there, and nobody ever talked about if it was something we can do. We only talked about when and how.”

Despite electrical issues that needed to be fixed in the church’s kitchen, the founding members of the soup kitchen were determined to be open during Strawberry Festival weekend.

“Somebody said, ‘We’ll serve out of the back of a pickup if it’s not ready,’” she said.

After overcoming some hurdles, the soup kitchen successfully served its first meal on Wednesday, June 7, 1989. Actually, they served zero meals, as no one showed up. The following Friday, they served two meals. After passing out fliers at the grand parade, Monday’s guest list totalled at least 100.

And 100 is the average number of meals they serve every Monday, Wednesday and Friday since that day. Right now, the numbers are a little lower, said KJ Ullfers, interim kitchen manager of the soup kitchen.

“I think a lot of it is economics; the economy is better,” Ullfers said. “Not as many people are challenged in food security. Secondly, we also have a lot of people who age out and die.”

A majority of their guests are not homeless, but, rather, those who need the extra cash to continue to live in their home, West said.

“(Some people) think that we just enable the homeless to be here and enable them to stay homeless. That’s not true. Our biggest work is with people on the fringe. Once people lose their house, it is double hard to get back in a house,” she said.

After being involved in the kitchen for 30 years now, West has met her share of community members and seen good things happen. She wrote a book, Miracles Among Us, sharing her witness of the little miracles that have happened for people they’ve served at the kitchen.

“This job is not just, ‘let’s get people food.’ It’s connecting with folks,” Ullfers said.

Written on their anniversary cake was something all the volunteers are proud to say, that the soup kitchen hasn’t missed a single meal since they opened.

The anniversary kicked off a campaign to secure committed financial donors. The fundraiser ends Sept. 21, at which time the soup kitchen will have a celebration.

“We’re needed. Even if it’s just a few people, we’re needed,” West said.

The board of the soup kitchen is currently looking for a permanent part-time kitchen manager.