The foundation of our organization, the Soup Kitchen, embodies our mission like no other. It truly brings the community together to serve our homeless neighbors and it provides an environment of trust and relationship building to end homelessness.
A primary tenet of Urban Ministry Center is to offer programs with very low or no barriers to service. Literally anyone can walk up to the soup kitchen window and get a hot lunch. We don’t ask for your name, your income, a prayer, or participation in a program. Many of our homeless neighbors do not trust organizations and having an accessible soup kitchen gives us a unique opportunity to begin to know who needs help and to slowly build relationships with them. In our annual survey at the gate, we found that lunch was the primary reason for 26% of the people coming to UMC that day; and 64% had eaten lunch at the soup kitchen within the last week.
In fact, we served 95,585 lunches in 2015! While that’s an awful lot of lunches, it’s actually part of a downward trend in demand over the last three years. This can be attributed to Charlotte’s success in getting chronically homeless people housed and also to a better economy, lessening the need for so many lunches. We continue to see a higher amount of people in the last couple weeks of the month, when people are having a harder time making ends meet.
Bringing the Community Together
While the kitchen has a director, Sandra Smith, and several helpers employed to keep it organized, the meals and service are prepared and carried out by regular volunteers every day. Churches, families, clubs, and groups are
committed to covering each shift, 365 days of the year. In addition, we solicit donors/volunteers to supply two key pieces of lunch: sandwiches and drinks. Last year 307 individuals and groups contributed over 185,548 sandwiches through Operation Sandwich and we had 266 days (73%) of days with Drink Groups bringing and serving drinks for lunch. These activities provide a great way for the community to support our neighbors, and, equally importantly, to help us with the expense of running the soup kitchen.
Finally, we cannot thank enough the funders we have for the Soup Kitchen, including the WalMart State Giving Program, our largest contributor to the program. WalMart’s focus on hunger relief is lived
out in the soup kitchen each day with their generous support. In addition, we receive donations from the Charlotte Presbytery, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, and from Souper Bowl of Caring collections organized by the youth at several Charlotte congregations.
All of these donors, volunteers, and staff work together to comfort, nourish, and help our neighbors along a path intended to end their homelessness. It’s easy to see why the Soup Kitchen remains a foundation of the Urban Ministry Center.