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Sparking JOY: Community honors Taft's contributions

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Barbara Taft wraps up a finished turkey she prepared for Christmas dinner to be served to the needy at the JOY Soup Kitchen in 2014. Taft, who recently had to step away from the organization on doctor’s orders, was honored for her years of service during a church service and luncheon on Saturday.

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By Kelly Fox
For The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

For years, Barbara Taft spent her days spreading JOY to the neediest members of the Greenville community.

On Saturday, the community gathered at the York Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church to return a little of that good will.

Many of those attending the retirement celebration referred to Taft by names such as “Mom” and “Aunt Barbara.” She earned these affectionate titles while serving at the JOY (Jesus, Others, and You) Soup Kitchen since its founding in 1994.

The soup kitchen on Albermarle Avenue serves roughly 25,000 meals a year to anyone in need on five days a week. It also helps the community by partnering up with other organizations to provide things like healthcare screenings.

Taft recently had to step away from the organization on doctor’s orders and is staying with her son, Gregory, and his family.

Beyond serving meals at the kitchen, Taft  was know for doing whatever she could whenever she could to help those in need. Her work did not go unnoticed, and many people shared their memories of her kindness during a church service prior to the retirement celebration.

“I’ve known sister Barbara Taft, I would say, over 50 years,” said the Rev.Sylvia Tille, “Where I knew her from was church and in the community. But this one thing I want to make mention of is her heart of service.

“It’s not just with the JOY Soup Kitchen — she was feeding people even before that — but for her service to her church,” Tille said. “She’s a deaconess in our church; she’s been a missionary in our church, sang in the choir and that’s where I really got to know her. We traveled all over the East Coast singing the songs of Zion. We may think that it’s not a big thing, but God rewards our service.

“It’s not so much what we acquire for ourselves but what we do for others and I thank (Taft) for (the) example of showing me how to love,” Tille said.

Taft was also honored by N.C. House Rep. Kandie Smith. Smith praised Taft for her work in the community and her “capacity to care.”

Marcus McNeill, who helped out at the soup kitchen, joked that Taft had her own way of handing misbehavior.

“If you were in that kitchen, she had that fly swatter when you wanted to act up real bad,” he said.

On a more serious note, McNeill said, “But, I just want to let you know I love you. I appreciate you. I just want to let you know that the work that you done, let it speak for you. … Keep on keeping on.”

The Rev. Veronica O. Stokes also had good memories to share.

“As far back as I can remember, I remember sister Barbara Taft,” Stokes said.

Stokes noted that she remembered Taft singing in the choir with her grandmother. Stokes also recalled how Taft acted as a guide to her in the kitchen, but also in her life.

“I know you can cook because your phone number would be one of the first phone numbers that I would dial when I needed to know how to cook something,” Stokes said. “So, I thank you for that because I’m not a cook. And then as a deaconess, I know I would come in quiet and didn’t know what to do, but you were always there to answer any questions, never got upset, but you always had an answer.

“I thank you for working with me and not giving up on me,” Stokes said. “You serve well, and you know how to serve — not everybody knows how to serve. Thank you for your faithfulness; thank you for your love and your kindness.”

During the luncheon celebration, Shonika Harris, Taft’s granddaughter, said it was great to see her honored.

“She has done a lot for the community,” Harris said.

Recalling her grandmother’s long years of service, Harris said that Taft may not have set out to serve at the soup kitchen for 25 years.

“She just knew that she needed to help people,” Harris said.

Working with her grandmother every summer, Harris said she learned “the heart of service.”

Taft worked to get people what they needed, from food to clothing and shoes, she said.

“She would go above and beyond a meal,” Harris said. It didn’t matter who the person was or what they did, her grandmother would say, “You can’t not help people. You have to help ‘em.”

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