By Robert Lucke
Nancy Evans has been a part of Havre's Soup Kitchen since cooking the first meal when it opened in 1989.
She is now the director. Through her 10 year involvement, aside from six months off once in a while, she has been the director for the last seven and a half years.
"Patsy Horne started the kitchen and I was a volunteer," said Evans, sitting at a table in the kitchen dining room. "Patsy Horne saw hungry people and didn't know what to do about it. A lot of people think we are connected with the Salvation Army but we are separate. We have our own board."
Evans was born in Sidney, moved to Havre when one year of age, lived here ever since. She is married to Charles Evans. They have one daughter, Michelle.
Evans is modest about her involvement with the Soup Kitchen. She had tried lots of different things as varied as clerking in local stores to being a beautician. She jumped from occupation to occupation until boredom would set in. There is no boredom at the Soup Kitchen where she serves from 25 to 80 persons each day. The Kitchen is open every day of the week, every day of the year, except Christmas and Thanksgiving, because folks needing a meal can get it free elsewhere on those days, Evans explained.
Even though there are people fed who at times ought not to be, most really appreciate when they get a meal.
"I do have trouble with drunks every so often," said Evans, frowning. "But most who come here are really down on their luck and need a helping hand."
Nothing would work at all at the Soup Kitchen without the help of the community in numerous ways. Volunteers man the place daily and cook some of the meals. And the community shares with the Kitchen left over food from any number of events.
"Something keeps coming in that someone has left over," admitted Evans. It might be parties, or funerals and sometimes organizations like the VFW and Eagles give us their left over food. Pizza Hut gives us all of their left over buffet pizzas and we serve them on Saturdays. IGA and Albertsons give us food. The list goes on and on. A woman in Chinook gives us what eggs she has."
Menus? Not really. What is cooking on any given day depends on what has been donated. However, what came in today is probably on the menu for tomorrow unless something more perishable comes in.
"Today we had sloppy joes," said Evans. "We did not serve it all so tomorrow I will probably make soup out of the left over sloppy joes and serve sandwiches with it."
Most popular meal? You guessed it. Those Pizza Hut pizzas served on Saturday.
And yes, like every kitchen, sometimes there are just plain bombs.
"I can remember one day we were cooking roast pork and it was lunch time and it was still bloody," said Evans, smiling. "We had to slice it up and fry it."
One year when Steve Helmbrecht was firing bowls and the Soup Kitchen was filling those bowls as a fund raising event, the menu called for beef stroganoff. Evans continues the story.
"The first bowls of stroganoff were fine but then we mixed the noodles and the sauce all together and those who came in later had something that tasted just like wallpaper paste," related Evans. "The next year we made chili. It had to be safer, we thought, and it was."
Evans really appreciates the years that Helmbrecht fires up his bowls as a fund raiser for the Kitchen.
One of the greatest needs of the Soup Kitchen these days are more board members. They need a treasurer badly Evans said.
While doing this interview, a Hungary couple walked in only to find that dinner had been over an hour ago. Not willing to let them go back on the street empty handed, Evans found sandwiches, juice and apples for them to take with them.
As to the meals, they come highly recommended.
"We have had transients tell us we serve the best meals in Montana," added Evans.
Tomorrow is another day and there will be another meal. One thing Evans knows is that it is summer and probably there will be more eating than a month ago.
"We all really try here," said Evans. "I don't do it alone. We have lots of volunteers."