Volunteers serve soup for decades

MEADVILLE, Pa. (AP) — There’s a cozy eatery on South Main Street, popular with some and possibly never heard of by others, that’s been serving up a lot more than soup for the past 35 years.

“It’s meant the world to my life,” said Carol Burnheimer, president of the volunteer governing board that oversees Meadville’s Soup Kitchen. “I just love to volunteer and the soup kitchen has been a real blessing in my life.”

The Soup Kitchen is located in the lower level of Stone United Methodist Church, 956 S. Main St., Meadville.

Anywhere from 80 to 110 people from all walks of life turn to the Soup Kitchen for a hot meal each day, according to its coordinator, Beverly Nutter.

“The number of people served fluctuates up and down for any number of reasons,” said Nutter, who added that the number has never significantly decreased. “There’s always a need.”

Anyone who is hungry is welcome to eat at the Soup Kitchen at no cost with no questions asked, according to Nutter.

“We do ask that they eat what they take,” she said, adding that leftovers are used. “We don’t waste food here.”

They also serve much more than soup.

“Soup doesn’t always stick with you for long and fill you up,” Nutter said. “We make more filling meals than soup.”

In the days after 147 Thanksgiving meals were served at the facility, diners were treated to turkey casserole and turkey gravy served over biscuits, according to Nutter.

“We have to stretch our money as far as we can,” Nutter said.

That meal stretching includes making use of day-old baked goods and breads supplied by Giant Eagle.

“I also do all our shopping locally as a way to give back to the local community that supports us,” she said.

The Soup Kitchen relays solely on donations. It doesn’t get anything state or federal money, Nutter said. She pointed out how amazing the longevity of the kitchen is when you consider that it takes $80,000 to $90,000 annually to fund the program.

Local help doesn’t just come from donations, according to Nutter.

“We have a lot of volunteers who help us,” she said. “They come from all around us. And many of them are not young.”

Nutter said 24 church groups volunteer one day per month. The groups come from churches in Atlantic, Saegertown, Cochranton, Cambridge Springs and Meadville.

Some of the younger helpers come from local schools and organizations, according to Nutter.

“We also have groups from the Arc of Crawford County and the Crawford County Career and Technical Center that help out one day a week,” Nutter said. “They wash tables and set tables. Whatever they can do to help. You can tell it makes them feel good to help out.”

Nutter also appreciates the students from Allegheny College who help out on a daily basis. “They’re a big help,” she said.

Russ Anderson was busy helping prepare for a meal earlier this week. The Cochranton resident has been volunteering once a month for about 10 years.

Why does he make the monthly drive up to the Soup Kitchen? “I just enjoy doing it,” he said.

It won’t be long until another holiday meal is served at the Soup Kitchen. Christmas dinner is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Dec. 21.

Volunteers from St. Brigid Church bring a double crew that day and serve the meal, Nutter said.