By Susanne Mullin, Administrative Assistant
Two Mondays a month, anywhere from 6 to 15 people gather in the kitchen of the First Congregational Church of Sharon. Some people are from our church family, and some are friends of the church; both groups like the idea of helping to fill bellies with food and hearts with warmth during the cold winter months.
The group gets together to make 30 quarts and 30 pints of fresh, healthy, hearty homemade soups for our shut-ins and the Ilsa Marks Food pantry that serves the Sharon/Stoughton Community.
The ministry runs smoothly with the help of volunteers with varying talents and time and reasons for getting involved. We have shoppers, choppers, bakers, packers, and deliverers. Some people come to chop vegetables, bake corn bread and cookies, or package the items; others come to drop off donations of vegetables and home baked goods. One woman can't cook but she can package; one gentleman volunteers to drive to the food pantry. We have stay-at-home moms who get together for play dates and bake while their kids play, and we have high school youth joining in on other days. One woman likes teaching her kids to be helpful and to share. One person cannot join in, but gives a $20 donation. Various jobs require about an hour or an hour and a half, so it's not a big time commitment.
We have been blessed with a commercial kitchen that enables good working conditions and plenty of space for all the worker bees. The choppers and a cook arrive at 10:00 am Monday morning. They chop vegetables for about an hour and half and then have a cup of tea. The cook stays until about noon or one and then lets the soup cool. At 3:30 the packers arrive. The soup is ladled into containers and labeled with ingredients, corn bread and cookies are packaged, and everything is stored overnight in the refrigerator. At 8 am on Tuesdays everything is taken to the Food Pantry.
It costs about $75 each week for some of the ingredients and containers. The church membership has gotten behind this project and has budgeted for it in 2011, so we will be able to continue it through the winter, spring and fall.
Volunteers deliver the food to the Food Pantry, to the delight of all waiting in a long line. Because clients are not allowed to visit the Pantry two weeks in a row, we conduct these cooking and delivering sessions on back-to-back weeks. The Food Pantry - which services 50 to 100 clients each week - is notified ahead of time which weeks we will be there because they do not have a big enough space to accommodate the perishable food.
We have seen our labor of love to be essential to the community. The colder and worse the weather, the more clients are looking to supplement their weekly groceries. Clients range from older people living on fixed income, to single people and single parents, to young adults who have lost their jobs because of the economy. Many walk to the food pantry or ride bikes, even in the snow. I've noticed that many do not have winter coats; they just layer up clothing on top of clothing.
When we have pulled up with our donations, we can practically see the eyes pop out of the clients' heads. They have commented: "You did that for us?" "Wow" "a home cooked meal!!!" "I hope there is enough for me when it's my turn."
Any leftovers are frozen, so that our Deacons can take soup on a shut-in visit.
This has been such a wonderful experience for some of our older parishioners who feel alone and isolated during the winter months. They've said that this ministry is a reason to get out of bed on a cold winter morning.
It has also been a wonderful experience for our younger members to work with older members and people they may not have worked with in the past. And it's been wonderful for our shut-ins and for the community. Our Soup Project has turned out to be a win win for all!
Susanne can be reached at the church office at:781-784-2631 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.