a hot meal
Havre Daily News
Head cook Jackie Plum fills one dish of hot chili after another, placing them on trays with other donated food. It's noon, and Plum is serving a line of people at the Feed My Sheep Community Soup Kitchen that stretches through the building. By the end of the meal, she has served about 50 people.
Plum, now a paid staffer, said she began volunteering at the kitchen three years ago because of a desire to help those less fortunate. It's work that needs to be done, she said. Other volunteers echo her sentiment.
The kitchen, a Christian organization that provides a hot meal and a little spiritual guidance, has been in existence since 1989, board member Alan Peterson said. It could not exist without the help of volunteers and donors, he said.
It serves a nutritious lunch six days a week, beginning at noon, and provides about 12,000 meals a year, Peterson said. The number of people coming in every day varies - on some days, nearly 100 people come through the line. On Saturdays and during the summer months, the crowd includes children.
Peterson went to a community meeting when the soup kitchen was organized and has been involved ever since.
At that time, there were a lot of people riding the rails through Havre, and a number on the streets, he said. The soup kitchen doesn't see as many transients as it used to, but that doesn't mean the need for the kitchen's free meals has lessened.
“I saw that there was a need in the community,” Peterson said. “There's still a need. We're trying to help people. I'm a Christian, and we feel it's our duty to help people.
“There are people out there in dire straits,” he added. “Everybody can be there at one time or another. ... We try not to make people embarrassed for being down on their luck. We look at people as people.”
Board member Keith Williamson said the kitchen needs about four volunteers each day to get the job done. There are about 20 people who come in and regularly volunteer, he said, but the kitchen is always looking for more.
Some of the kitchen's funding comes from United Way of Hill County and some from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said. The kitchen also is supported by donations from local residents. Williamson said he'd like to see local residents and business owners come visit the kitchen and have a meal, so they can see the service they support.
Volunteers try to encourage the people they serve by offering a daily blessing of the meal and readings from the Bible, Williamson said.
“We like to lift people up,” Williamson said. “We try to offer a word of encouragement or a psalm. Sometimes, that's all people need.”
Robert Archambault said he comes often for a meal and a chance to socialize. He sometimes volunteers to help clean up after meals. The kitchen shows that there are people looking out for those less fortunate, he said.
“There are people who care,” Archambault said. “I'm happy this place is open.”
Some of the dishes are better than food at local restaurants, he added.
Robert Vukasin II eats regularly at the soup kitchen. He said life would be harder without the free daily meal.
“It helps me out each month,” he said.
The soup kitchen and its board members also helped him spiritually, he said. Vukasin began attending church after he started visiting the soup kitchen, and he has been going ever since.
“It makes my life better,” Vukasin said.
Some of those in line for food at the kitchen eventually walk through the doors of a church, while others consider the daily blessings their regular helping of spiritual guidance, Vukasin said. Still others come for the food only, he added.
Missie Snow comes to the soup kitchen almost every day, and she often brings her neighbor's children. She said she is looking for jobs but has not found one yet, and the free meal helps.
Plum has the challenge of using donated ingredients to cook a large meal for an unknown number of guests. Luckily, she has plenty to work with.
“We couldn't do it without all of the people who donate to us,” Plum said.
Businesses, organizations, churches, ranchers, Hutterite colonies and others donate everything the kitchen needs to feed people who walk through the door.
Board members will start to worry about running out of one thing or another, and then it shows up at the door.
“We'll start to worry ... and the next day, all of the sudden, it will all come in,” Peterson said. “It's really amazing how it works. When they're short on something, the community always manages to come through.”
The kitchen benefits whenever someone in the community holds an event where food is served, because the people often donate leftover items to the kitchen, board member Jerry Williams said.
“(The soup kitchen) would close its doors tomorrow if it weren't for individuals,” he said.
Williams has served on the board for three years. He joined after he retired because he had the time to help.
“This is my way of giving back to the community,” he said.
The board members have to be affiliated with a local church, he said. When applying for a paid position at the kitchen, people must write an essay about their religious experience, he said.
When volunteers were asked about their reasons for working at the kitchen, they often gave the same response: It needs to be done.
“We do a lot of good here,” volunteer Judy Neely said.
Neely began volunteering at the soup kitchen in April, during Lent. She said she wanted to do more than give up something. She liked the work and stuck with it.
“Some people have a pretty hard life,” she said. “The soup kitchen serves a need. It's not just the homeless people. It's the people that can't afford to eat, and there are a lot of people in Havre that can't afford to eat.”
Edna Bitz said she volunteers because of a desire to serve. She hopes those who get a hot meal at the kitchen come away with something more as well.
“We feed their bellies, but who's going to feed their soul?” Bitz said. “I believe every person, no matter who they are, matters to God. The people that are down need the most help. You just hope they can see, through our kindness, that people love them.”
Travelers often stop in for a meal, and Neely said one group told her of an underground rating system for soup kitchens. Havre is rated as one of the best, Neely said.
“They're always very gracious and thankful,” Neely said.
Anyone who would like to volunteer or donate to the soup kitchen can call 265-1629.