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Posted by zeakster on November 13, 2008

of The News-Sentinel

With monthly unemployment numbers at the highest level in more than a decade, needy families find the shelves increasingly bare at local food banks.

Two soup kitchens face the same plight: running out of soup while feeding a combined total of more than 1,000 people lunch daily.

While the loaves and the fishes don’t multiply as they did in biblical times, the staff and volunteers at St. Mary Catholic Church’s and St. Andrew’s soup kitchens do their best to produce food when the soup’s all gone — even if it is only apples and potato chips or canned soup.

Tony Henry, pastoral associate at St. Mary Catholic Church, said the need is unprecedented. For years, St. Mary’s fixed two 60-gallon vats of soup daily.

“In the last three months or so,” Henry said, “we switched to three vats, and we’re still running out.”

Henry said work begins at 6 a.m. when Diane Day, food service director, arrives. Three paid staff and 80 volunteers prepare a variety of soups, such as ham and bean, chili, chicken noodle, cream of potato, vegetable, barley, and tomato and rice.

When the soup runs out, staff and volunteers make peanut butter sandwiches. Henry said one day recently the soup kitchen handed out apples and potato chips because it had nothing else available during the last hour.

Henry said St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen fed 32,300 people in October — a 28 percent increase from a year ago — which cost $22,933, or about 71 cents a serving.

Henry also said the soup kitchen gives families a quart of milk three days a week, purchased from a local vendor, and a loaf of bread daily, donated from area grocery stores, when available.

“If they can get soup today, that will help them pay their other bills,” Henry said.

Kenneth Leugring, manager of St. Andrew’s Soup Kitchen, said he and his 25 volunteers serve canned soup, yams and bread when the 10 gallons of soup, donated from St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen, is all gone.

Leugring said St. Andrew’s Soup Kitchen serves about 75 people a day early in the month, and the line swells to more than 100 by month’s end. Leugring said his soup kitchen fed 124 people Oct. 22.

Leugring said all monies received by St. Andrew’s Soup Kitchen go to purchase basic supplies, such as styrofoam cups, lids and paper bags, as well as for the canned food that comes from an area food bank for 18 cents a pound.

Leugring, who is not paid for his work as manager, said, “I think we’re doing a great job. I appreciate the help my volunteers give me.”

Henry said St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen also depends on donations. It recognizes the contributions of corporations, such as Pizza Hut and Midwest Pipe and Steel, by putting up signs acknowledging donors on the corners of the church’s property.

Looking into the future, Henry said, “We’re going to have to knock on the doors to keep the food on our shelves.”


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