“It’s going to take the entire community pulling together to make this happen,” said Kim Beckett, who took over as the Soup Bowl’s executive director in January 2011.
The Soup Bowl serves an average of 108 midday meals per day out of an old house on Moore Avenue near Zinn Park. But sometimes it serves many more — on Monday, it set a new record, serving 183 meals.
At one time, the two-story structure must have been a nice home, with its fireplace, wainscoting and decorative staircase. But in the years since it was donated to the mission in 1984, it has deteriorated. All the organization’s money has gone toward feeding people and maintenance has been neglected, said Rev. Roland Brown, president of the Soup Bowl Board of Directors.
“The current building is just starting to wear out,” Brown said. “I think we’ve got all the good out of it.”
In addition, the building has never really suited the purpose of serving more than 100 meals per day, Beckett said. The kitchen is the size and configuration of a kitchen in any other older home. The mission tried to adapt it 28 years ago to suit the Soup Bowl’s purposes, but it is not a commercial kitchen. The food used in the kitchen has to be taken upstairs to the second floor to be stored. Freezers are scattered throughout the first floor.
But one of the biggest drawbacks is the small dining area.
“We only have 31 seats right now,” Beckett said. “So we fill up very quickly and people have to wait in line for an empty place to come available for them to sit down and eat their lunch.”
Most days it has to stay open longer than its posted hours because people are still waiting in line to eat at 1 p.m., Beckett said. She said she’ll stay open as long as she needs to feed them.
“People tell me it’s the only meal they get all day long,” Beckett said. “I’ve also had people tell me that because we do not serve on Saturday and Sunday that they do not eat on Saturdays and Sundays.”
The people who eat at the Soup Bowl rely on it, Beckett said, and the need is growing.
Last year, the Soup Bowl dished out 25,561 meals. This year it is on track to serve even more. By March 16, it had served 1,103 more meals than it did by March 16, 2011.
It’s not surprising, then, that the organization has started looking to move, but Brown was indeed surprised by reaction from the community.
It all started in December when the Soup Bowl received a donation of a piece of property to sell. Then, First Baptist Church McClellan offered the Soup Bowl another piece of property next to the congregation’s former home in Anniston on West 15th Street, where it could build a new facility. Also, Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Anniston adopted the Soup Bowl as a mission. It intends to raise $30,000 toward the new facility by July, said the Rev. Mack Amis, and has already committed the first $10,000 for architectural design.
“It’s amazing,” Brown said. “Every step across the way, somebody else has come along and said, ‘Here, let me help you do this.’”
Brown estimated it will take between $120,000 and $150,000 to build the new facility. So far, the Soup Bowl has raised about $27,000, not counting the $10,000 donated by Parker Memorial.
Amis said his church got involved to commemorate the church’s 125th anniversary in July.
“We wanted to take on a local mission partner,” Amis said. “We felt like the Soup Bowl provides a day-in, day-out ministry to needy people, a wide range of people.”
The church was trying to do something that would impact the community for the long term, Amis said.
Rev. Buddy Nelson, pastor of First Baptist McClellan, was well aware of the need. He’s on the board of directors for the organization and volunteers at the Soup Bowl. Members of the church also volunteer, so when the Soup Bowl started discussing its needs, the church quickly joined the effort.
“It just breaks your heart to realize how desperate people are in our own backyards,” Nelson said. “This is just one small way that we can make a difference.”
Nelson and a group of five other charitable organizations are looking to do even more. They hope to incorporate a charitable organization that would buy the old First Baptist Church, repair fire damage and renovate it for use for social service agencies. That would bring the Soup Bowl and other agencies, including Community Enabler and Interfaith Ministries, within a stone’s throw of one another, making it convenient for clients to access all the services.
But Nelson stresses the project is in its infancy and won’t happen soon.
Rev. Lee Shafer of Grace Episcopal Church is excited nonetheless.
“It will kind of be the one place for the social service agencies. People won’t have to walk all over town,” Shafer said. “Then for the Soup Bowl to be housed there as well would just be an even bigger benefit.”
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.