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Saturday outreach aims to increase food security, spread JOY


Tracy Ward, left, passes out dessert during Community Day.


Andie Smiley

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A new Saturday meal program at Greenville’s nonprofit soup kitchen will help supplement meals provided to area youth during the week, organizers said at a kick-off event for the program.

JOY Soup Kitchen held an open-to-all lunch at its Albemarle Avenue facility to mark the beginning of the program, specifically geared toward children, their families and seniors. The effort received funding from Vidant Health Foundation, Bank of America and Food Lion Feeds to offer meals every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Along with other volunteers and employees, board member Karen Stephenson and chairman Pastor Rodney Coles were working in the kitchen and preparing food for the event. The kitchen serves about 25,000 meals a year to alleviate some of the struggle of living in a food insecure environment, and its goal with this new program specifically is to provide a resource for parents to bring their children for meals on the weekends. While schools offer free lunch programs during the summer and when school is in, they do not run the full week.

“The schools are doing what they can, but they’re not there on the weekend,” Stephenson said, hoping that the Saturday meal would supplement the weekday lunches. This addition also comes after a new program was launched in March to begin providing dinner as well as lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so that people who rely on the Kitchen can get two meals those days rather than one.

“I know they say the economy is wonderful, but it’s not wonderful for everybody,” Stephenson said. “So we’re here to help these people at least get one decent meal a day.”

In addition to the physical struggle, Coles talked about how hunger and the stress of a food-insecure environment takes a mental toll, and JOY (Jesus, Others and You) hopes to ease some of that stress through providing community as well as serving food.

“I’ve seen people change their life. There’s one gentleman … he was going to commit suicide, and he sat with me and we broke bread, I ate with him, we talked. This gentleman works at a dealership now, he’s doing great, helping other people. I’ve seen prostitutes who’ve gotten off the street, changing their life, because it’s about joy. It’s about showing love.”

The outreach also plans to host community events like pumpkin carving parties for children near Halloween, and Christmas parties near Christmas, to give children a fun outlet near the holidays. According to Stephenson, every aspect of the kitchen is about giving back to their community.

“God wants us to take care of each other,” she said. “He wants us to take care of our brothers, and taking care of [just] me is not taking care of them.”

Currently, the best way to support the JOY Soup Kitchen is to make a monetary donation, organizers said.

“Food is not an issue for us. Our main problem is funding, because we are not federally funded. We are a 501c3 … so we’re tax exempt, but we don’t get any federal funding,” Stephenson said.

Costs of operation for a year can total around $50,000, said John Lennox, the organization’s treasurer, funded mainly through donations. Roughly half of this goes to building maintenance and operations, while the other half pays the part-time employees who work in the kitchen alongside local volunteers.

A large grant from the West Memorial Fund has provided $42,000 to make repairs to the facility itself, but local churches — nearly 20 of them support the kitchen — are JOY’s most consistent supporters. The effort received about $16,000 from churches in 2018. First Presbyterian Church made a large donation from its Christmas Eve offering, and St. James United Methodist made a large donation during Lent.

“A lot of churches have helped us out and we really appreciate it,” Lennox said.

Lennox applied for several grants for the Saturday effort and the Vidant Health Foundation, Bank of America and the Food Lion Feeds program came through, Lennox said, providing a total of almost $12,000.

JOY has been serving weekday lunches since is opened in 1994, replacing the Greenville Soup Kitchen that had operated for years at Mount Hermon Lodge. In 1995, founder Barbara Taft and Jean Dawson, who had been serving meals at York Memorial AME Zion Church, moved to the current location at 700 Albemarle Ave. Taft retired this year.

Board members say despite the generous support the effort receives from the community, expenses still outpace revenues.

“If we don’t get some funding here to help us soon, we’re in big trouble and we may have to shut the doors. We don’t want to do that because then there’s no place for people to eat,” Stephenson said.

Their main focus right now is keeping the Kitchen going, as well as getting the word out to the community so that they can hopefully gather more supporters and advertise their services where needed.

“I’ve worked in food for 15 years, and out of all the places I’ve worked, this is the one I will remember,” Stephenson said. “This is the one that sits in my heart.”

Visit www.joysoupkitchen.org for more information about the soup kitchen.