“I walked in here two years ago,” said Kim Beckett, executive director of the Soup Bowl, “and could not believe that they were preparing as much food as they were in this kitchen here.”
The living room of the old Victorian home now serves as a dining area, seating up to 29. The dining area is where the food is served buffet-style to clients. The kitchen, which would have been adequate in a single-family dwelling, is now crammed full with commercial-sized appliances while a freezer is squeezed into the hallway. Much of the food has to be stored upstairs in the former bedrooms.
To serve an average of 125 people a day in the hour and 30 minutes the Soup Bowl is open means that patrons often have to wait for a seat to open up in the dining room before eating, something Beckett finds unacceptable.
That should soon change. The Soup Bowl’s Board of Directors has been working for about a year to secure enough donations to build a new facility on land donated to the soup kitchen by the First Baptist Church at McClellan. The board has raised enough money to break ground as soon as the city of Anniston approves its building permit, said the Rev. Roland Brown, president of the Soup Bowl’s board and pastor of Golden Springs Baptist Church.
Situated on the corner of 15th Street and Circle Drive next to the former home of the First Baptist congregation, the property is about a third of an acre in size. It's about a block and a half away from the Soup Bowl's current operation at 1516 Moore Ave., where the charity has operated since its founding in 1984.
Brown said the Soup Bowl has raised $85,000 in cash, and the board has been promised materials, site preparation work and contractor fees for the new facility.
It’s plenty to get started, although the board will still have to raise some more money to finish the project, he said. However, Brown isn’t worried about being able to raise the remainder. He hasn’t had to work hard to raise the funds so far, he said. People read about the Soup Bowl’s plight and have stepped up on their own to help, Brown said.
“I can’t take credit for this. I just sit wide-eyed in amazement in what God’s doing,” Brown said.
Beckett traveled to other soup kitchens and drew up a wish list for the new facility, she said. She included things like public restrooms, a commercial kitchen, ample storage, a one-story building and a bigger dining area — the new one will seat 70. All of it will make the Soup Bowl more efficient and give the clients a more enjoyable meal, she said.
The new home of the Soup Bowl will be in neighborhood cluster of charitable service agencies. First Baptist's former education building will house some of the agencies — Family Service Center has already moved into the building. Interfaith Ministries' current building is just across the street.
“It’s going to help the clients,” Beckett said. “So many of these folks do not have transportation.”
It will also help the agencies as they collaborate with each other, she said. The Soup Bowl often refers people to other agencies like Interfaith Ministries or Community Enabler. They also share resources, Beckett added. For instance, Soup Bowl will give donated items that it can’t use or won’t be able to use before its expiration date to other agencies such as Community Enabler, she said.
The Rev. Buddy Nelson, pastor of the First Baptist Church, said the donation of the lot to the Soup Bowl was part of a plan to create a one-stop-shop of charitable service agencies at the site. The church created a development corporation called Unified Resource Center to sell the remainder of the property. Its intention is to help charitable service agencies gather near one another, he said.
The board is preparing to submit its revised plans to the city for approval, Brown said.
City inspector Lee Willis said he reviewed the first set of plans for the new facility and sent a reply on Nov. 20. The revised plans will only take a few days to review; if there are no changes required and if the contractor hired presents the proper license, the city will be able to issue a permit quickly, Willis said. Even if there are minor changes required, the building permit could be issued, he added.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.